Recovery in the Hospital
After surgery, you’ll typically spend 1 or 2 days in an intensive care unit (ICU). Your health care team will check your heart rate, blood pressure, and oxygen levels regularly during this time.
An intravenous (IV) line will likely be inserted into a vein in your arm. Through the IV line, you may get medicines to control blood flow and blood pressure. You also will likely have a tube in your bladder to drain urine and a tube in your chest to drain fluid.
You may receive oxygen therapy (oxygen given through nasal prongs or a mask) and a temporary pacemaker while in the ICU. A pacemaker is a small device that’s placed in the chest or abdomen to help control abnormal heart rhythms.
Your doctor also might recommend that you wear compression stockings on your legs. These stockings are tight at the ankle and become looser as they go up the legs. This creates gentle pressure that keeps blood from pooling and clotting.
While in the ICU, you’ll also have bandages on your chest incision (cut) and on the areas where arteries or veins were removed for grafting.
After you leave the ICU, you’ll be moved to a less intensive care area of the hospital for 3–5 days before going home. (only 2!)
Recovery at Home
Your doctor will give you instructions for recovering at home (yes to all), such as:
- How to care for your healing incisions
- How to recognize signs of infection or other complications
- When to call the doctor right away
- When to make followup appointments
You’ll also learn how to deal with common side effects from surgery. Side effects often go away within 4–6 weeks after surgery, but may include:
- Discomfort or itching from healing incisions
- Swelling of the area where arteries or veins were removed for grafting
- Muscle pain or tightness in the shoulders and upper back
- Fatigue (tiredness), mood swings, or depression
- Problems sleeping or loss of appetite
- Chest pain at the site of the chest bone incision (more frequent with traditional CABG)
Full recovery from traditional CABG may take 6–12 weeks or more. Nontraditional CABG doesn’t require as much recovery time.
Your doctor will tell you when you can become active again. It varies from person to person, but there are some typical timeframes.
Often, people can resume sexual activity and return to work after about 6 weeks. Some people may need to find less physically demanding types of work or work a reduced schedule at first.
Talk with your doctor about when you can resume activity, including sexual activity, working, and driving.
Care after surgery may include periodic checkups with doctors. During these visits, you may have tests to see how your heart is working. Tests may include an EKG (electrocardiogram), stress testing, echocardiography, and a cardiac CT scan.
CABG is not a cure for coronary heart disease (CHD). After the surgery, your doctor may recommend a treatment plan that includes lifestyle changes. Following the plan can help you stay healthy and lower the risk of CHD getting worse.
For more information about lifestyle changes, go to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute’s “Your Guide to Living Well With Heart Disease.”
Your doctor also may refer you to cardiac rehabilitation (rehab). Cardiac rehab is a medically supervised program that helps improve the health and well-being of people who have heart problems.
Cardiac rehab includes exercise training, education on heart healthy living, and counseling to reduce stress and help you return to an active life. Your doctor can tell you where to find a cardiac rehab program near your home.
Taking medicines as prescribed also is important after CABG. Your doctor may prescribe medicines to manage pain during recovery, lower your cholesterol and blood pressure, reduce the risk of blood clots forming, manage diabetes, or treat depression.