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Cardiac Bypass Surgery

Life After Bypass Surgery

Last updated on:
20/03/2012

Contributing Author: Guy Slowik FRCS

You will have a checkup with the cardiologist about 7 to 10 days after you go home. During this visit, the cardiologist will discuss your recovery, make recommendations for improving your lifestyle, and fine-tune your medications if necessary.

By the sixth week after surgery, most people resume almost all of their regular activities. You can drive, travel, return to your normal sex life, go to movies, eat out, and even return to work. However, your healing will progress most smoothly if you don't let yourself get exhausted, and if you remember to rest when you are tired. You will notice that as your activity increases, your strength will increase too. Six weeks after discharge, you should be able to walk two to three miles in one hour.

Need To Know:

Activities to avoid

The bone in the middle of your chest (the sternum) was opened during surgery. This bone does not completely heal for at least 12 weeks. For that period of time, no extra stress should be put on it. Remember to avoid heavy lifting (no more than 15 pounds), playing golf, tennis or vigorous swimming. Light activities such as lighter golfing (chip, putt), carefully riding a bicycle or wading in a pool will aid the healing process.

Cardiac Rehabilitation

Your cardiologist will discuss beginning an exercise program. This will be one of the most important things that will keep your cardiovascular system healthy.

Many people choose rehabilitation classes to help them recover. These programs teach the importance of exercise, how to get started, and how to know your limits. Some programs may also help you make changes in diet, quit smoking, or control stress. Through these programs, you will meet other people who have gone through the same procedure, and will have the chance to exchange stories and tips for recovery.

Daily Exercise Program

Usually, cardiac rehabilitation classes are held three times a week. On at least two other days, exercising for approximately one hour will aid your recovery. Walking is the best exercise for improving the overall health of your heart. It may reduce the chances of future heart problems and will probably prolong your life. A walking program should be tailored to your abilities, and reach a pace of about three miles an hour within a few weeks.

Keeping Your Arteries Clear

Before bypass surgery, there are significant blockages in the coronary arteries. If preventive measures are not taken, the processes that caused those original blockages can occur in the new bypass vessels after surgery. So, it is important to reduce the risk factors for coronary artery disease that can be controlled. These include: smoking, high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol, and a sedentary lifestyle.

Smoking

Smoking causes major damage to your cardiovascular system. The risk of renewed heart disease is even greater than the risk of lung cancer. Patients who continue to smoke after bypass surgery are likely to have their new arteries blocked sooner than those who do not smoke. That's why it's essential for patients who smoke to quit after their surgery. If you intend to smoke after surgery, it defeats the purpose of the original surgery.

Secondhand smoke may also increase your risk, so this is a good time for all members of your household to quit. For information on finding support to quit smoking, see "Additional Sources of Information".

High Blood Pressure

Many patients have hypertension (high blood pressure) before surgery. It is essential to monitor your pressure carefully after surgery. Poor control of blood pressure after surgery can worsen blockages in your arteries and speed up changes in your bypass grafts.

Your doctors will help you work out a plan for controlling blood pressure with diet, and perhaps medication. Keep track of the blood pressure numbers yourself, so you know how well you are doing.

For further information about high blood pressure, go to High Blood Pressure.

Diabetes

Diabetes increases the risk for coronary artery disease. Control of blood sugar after heart surgery is just as important as before surgery, to keep the bypass grafts open. Continue to work closely with your diabetes team to keep your diabetes in check.

Elevated Cholesterol

Poor control of cholesterol after surgery increases the risk that your new bypass grafts will be blocked. If changes in diet and lifestyle are not successful in reducing the level of cholesterol, then medications may be necessary in addition to the changes in diet recommended by your doctors. Remember that all medications have side effects, so altering your diet is an ideal strategy to improve your lifelong health.

For further information about lowering your cholesterol, go to How To Lower Your Cholesterol Level.

Sedentary Lifestyle

Moderate amounts of physical activity, including daily walks, swimming, or biking for fun can make big differences in how you feel and how your heart works. To become more physically active:

  • Start slow. Begin by walking or being active just 15-30 minutes each day, and work up slowly from there.
  • Find ways to do more physical activities. From washing the car, to gardening, to taking the stairs rather than the elevator, all movement counts as physical activity.
  • Find activities you enjoy doing. Physical activity seems easier when it's fun.
  • Be active with a friend. Walking, biking, or other activities are great ways to spend time with people.

Stress

Learning about and controlling stress can help your recovery and make it easier to tackle other lifestyle changes. There are many ways that people reduce daily stress: Some have quiet hobbies, some meditate, and some are physically active. Do whatever works for you, or sign up for a stress-control class. Remember, everyone is exposed to stress. But how you handle it can either support or undermine your long-term health.

For further information about reducing stress, go to Stress And How To Manage It.

Diet

Improving eating habits can help reduce risk for heart disease. Here are some tips to reduce the saturated fat and cholesterol in your diet:

  • Try lean meats like skinless chicken or turkey, and fish instead of higher fat meats like bacon, sausages, and marbled steaks.
  • Try main dishes featuring whole-wheat pasta, rice, beans, and/or vegetables.
  • Use lower-fat cooking methods, like boiling, broiling, baking, roasting, poaching, steaming, sauteing, stir-frying, or microwaving.
  • Trim off the fat you can see before cooking meat or poultry.
  • Substitute leaner foods for egg yolks and organ meats.
  • Choose fat-free or 1% milk, and nonfat or low-fat yogurt and cheeses.
  • Eat five or more servings of fruits or vegetables each day.
  • Choose whole-grain cereals and breads.

Major dietary change is a challenge for anyone. But, by making gradual changes, you may find that you actually enjoy a healthy diet more. A registered dietitian can help you to make the transition to healthy eating.

 
 

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From Andrew Maynard - Chair of the University of Michigan Department of Environmental Health Sciences, with help from David Faulkner - 2013 Master of Public Health graduate.