Understanding How to Recover From Heart Surgery at Home

While recovering from heart surgery, an elaborate web of transitional care needs develops, from nutritional changes to incision care, pain management, swelling reduction, and more. The last thing an older adult wants after returning home from such a distressing event is to face the need for rehospitalization.
To help your older family member recover from heart surgery, read through the following guidelines for effective transitional recovery:

Incision Care

Instructions on how to care for the incision will be provided prior to being discharged from the hospital. Concerns to be aware of include:

  • Sometimes, a lump or swelling appears at the top of the chest incision, and can take a few months to go away completely.
  • The incision can be carefully cleaned (don’t rub) with soap. Do not use lotions or creams on incisions until healing is complete.
  • Always keep the incision clean and dry.
  • If the incision is healing and dry, brief showers (no more than 10 minutes) are typically permitted. If there are sutures in the chest, stand with back to the shower spray.
  • Avoid extreme cold or hot water temperatures, as they can cause faintness.
  • If showers are not accessible, quick baths (limited to ten minutes) may be taken.

Pain Management

Initially, there may be some muscle or incision discomfort in the chest area during physical activity, but there should not be pain in the chest similar to the pain prior to surgery.

  • If the surgery was bypass surgery, and if vein grafts from the legs were used, there may be more pain in the legs than surrounding the chest incision.
  • Walking, daily activities, and time will help to lessen leg discomfort and stiffness.
  • A prescription for a pain medication will be given prior to leaving the hospital.
  • Itching, tightness and/or numbness along the incision are typical after surgery.


It is possible to go back home with some degree of swelling in the legs and feet, especially if vein grafts were taken from the legs. If swelling is noticed:

  • Hospital support hose may be advised.
  • Do not cross legs while lying in bed or sitting. This puts pressure on the veins below the knees and slows down blood flow.
  • Elevate feet higher than heart level when resting. Try to do this three times a day for one hour to relieve swelling. (Note: recliners do not adequately elevate feet.)
  • Walk every day, even if legs are swollen.

The recovery and transitional care time period can be a challenging time, and you may be tempted to call the doctor over each and every discomfort or symptom. Below are the symptoms that warrant a call to the doctor immediately:

  • Significant oozing, redness, swelling or tenderness at the incision sites.
  • Abnormal pain or other symptoms not relieved by medications.
  • If the sternum feels like it moves, or it pops or cracks with movement.
  • Increased exhaustion or shortness of breath.
  • Temperature higher than 101 degrees F on more than one occasion or chills for 24 hours.

The professional home care team at Carolina Hearts Home Care can help considerably in keeping an older adult on the road to recovery following heart surgery by providing personal care services, helping around the residence and with meals to allow them to rest and recuperate, running errands, picking up medications, and so much more. Call us at 1-855-277-2005 to find out more about how we can help you with customized home care services in Cheraw, Raeford, Hamlet, and the surrounding areas.