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Open Heart - Discharge Instructions



Your heart surgery is over and your body is healing. It is now time to get ready to go home. The information below will help you plan your activities and give you an idea of the kind of things you will need to do  and  will  be  able  to  do.


Discomfort from Your Incision


Pain from your incisions:

  • is to be expected.
  • is different for each person.
  • decreases with healing.
  • is different than angina.
  • is aggravated by coughing, sneezing and sudden changes in body position.

Decrease the pain by:

  • taking your prescribed pain medication when you first notice any incisional discomfort.
  • taking your pain medication every night at bedtime for the first week.
  • After your prescription is finished, you may take two Tylenol every 4-6 hours.
  • Call your doctor if the incisional pain increases or if you still have pain four to six weeks after surgery.

Caring for Your Incisions


Be sure to follow the instructions below as you care for your chest, arm and/or leg incisions.


Remember, keep your incisions clean and dry. You may wash your incisions with soap and water, but do not use lotions, oils, creams or powders until they have healed completely.


Your Chest Incision

  • The stitches under your skin will dissolve in three weeks to three months.
  • Expect some incisional pain coming from the muscles, bones and ligaments in your chest. Again, this is different from angina.
  • Call your surgeon if the incision drains any fluids or is red, tender or swollen. This is not normal and needs to be reported immediately!

Your Leg Incision

  • With the use of endoscopic vein harvesting your leg incisions will recover quicker than the traditional leg incision.
  • Swelling often develops in the leg where the graft was taken. It usually goes away three to six months after surgery. Swelling increases with prolonged standing or sitting with legs hanging down. When sitting, put your legs up.
  • Do not cross your legs or ankles for two months.
  • Your leg incision may drain a watery fluid. It may be clear, yellowish or pink in color. This is extra swelling fluid and is okay as long as it is watery.
  • Call your surgeon if the incision is red, tender, swollen or feverish.
  • Wear your TED hose for six weeks. Do not wear them to your office visit.

Your Arm Incision

  • If you have staples closing your incision, they will more than likely be removed before you go home. Steristrips (special tape) will be applied to support your incision. You can remove them in seven to ten days, if they haven't come off already.
  • Your arm incision may drain a watery fluid. It may be clear, yellowish or pink in color. This is extra swelling fluid and is okay as long as it is watery.
  • Call your surgeon if the incision becomes red, tender, very swollen or feverish.


  • Do not try to diet until your appetite returns. It may take some time after surgery for you to be hungry again.
  • Eat foods high in iron and protein. These foods help the healing process and build red blood cells.
  • Restrict salt use as directed by your doctor or dietitian. Moderation should be the rule for the first six weeks after surgery.
  • Restrict fat and cholesterol.  
  • Your blood cholesterol levels should be checked periodically. Keep track of your numbers.

Nutrition and Weight Loss

  • Weigh yourself every morning at the same time. Write down your weight and call your doctor if you gain more than three pounds in one day or five pounds in one week.
  • Try to maintain your weight as appropriate for your height. Your cardiac rehab nurse can help you calculate your appropriate weight.
  • Try to lose weight only when your incisions are healed completely.


  • At discharge, you will be given a list of your medications with instructions. Continue all medications until directed otherwise by your doctor. 
  •  Keep a list of all medications and updates with you at all times. Bring the list with you to your clinic visits.
  • You can record your medications in the "Medications" section.
  • Do not take any medications you had at home prior to your surgery unless they are okayed by your doctor.
  • If your doctor prescribed Coumadin, Warfarin or another blood thinner, please see the "Medications" section for specific guidelines.

Sadness or "The Blues"


It is normal to get the blues after surgery. The section "Coping with Heart Disease" in this notebook will help you deal with the feelings you may be experiencing. If you fall into depression for a long period of time, consult your doctor.


Returning to Work


How soon you return to work depends on the type of surgery you had, the kind of work you do and how fast you heal. 


Most patients can expect to return to work eight weeks after surgery. While most patients are able   to return to their previous jobs, you and your doctor will need to discuss your situation during your clinic visits.


 Related Information
 Your Surgery
 Going Home - Discharge Instructions
 Daily Activities
 When to Call the Doctor
Cardiac (Heart) Anatomy 
Cardiac (Heart) Conditions
Cardiac (Heart) Procedures 
Cardiac (Heart) Rehab
Cardiovascular Diagnostic Test
 Arterial Ultrasound
Cardiac Stress Testing

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(EKG or ECG)
Holter Monitoring &
Event Recorders
Pediatric Echocardiogram 
Pulmonary Function Tests 
Segmental Pressure Studies
Tilt Table Testing
Venous Ultrasound
Emergency Information
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