What You Need to Know Before Open Heart Surgery

There have been many medical advances related to open heart surgery, including the ability to avoid the surgery and use much less invasive methods for many procedures. But in some cases, open heart surgery is still necessary. 

Open heart surgery is used when the heart muscle needs direct intervention to help it beat properly. This can include coronary artery bypass, repair of damaged areas like valves or congenital defects, a heart transplant, or installation of a pacemaker or defibrillator

Traditionally, open heart surgery shifted all the vital functions of the body to a bypass machine while the heart was being worked on. But newer procedures can be done through smaller incisions, or even while the heart is still beating for some procedures.

Preparing for open heart surgery

In the weeks before surgery, your doctor may ask you to avoid smoking or drinking alcohol or make other lifestyle changes that will help improve your recovery from surgery. 

Talk to your doctor about all medications you are taking, as you may need to stop taking some medications several days prior to your procedure. The day before or morning of surgery, you may be asked to follow some specific instructions for showering to reduce the risk of infection following surgery. Your doctor’s office will have more specific instructions on anything you need to do to prepare for surgery.

What to expect the day of surgery

Open heart surgery uses general anesthesia, so you won’t be awake for any part of an open heart surgery. Once you are under anesthesia, the surgeon will open your chest with an incision and cut through the breast bone. There are some less invasive procedures that may use smaller incisions, but traditional open heart surgery typically means an 8- to 10-inch incision. Your heart may be hooked up to a bypass machine, or in smaller surgeries may be able to keep beating on its own.

After the procedure is complete, the surgeon closes the incision. You’ll have some tubes in your chest for a little while and will typically spend at least a day in the ICU, then probably a couple more days in the hospital so you can be carefully monitored.

Recovering from open heart surgery

It’s incredibly important to take care of the incision following an open heart surgery. Keep an eye out for any sort of draining, oozing, warmth, or redness near the incision. Call your doctor if you see any of these possible signs of infection or if you have concerns about how your incision is healing.

You may have some trouble sleeping for a bit. Your doctor may prescribe some pain medicine to help reduce your pain and help you sleep, and it’s a good idea to avoid caffeine before bed as well.

Get as much rest as you can and participate fully in your rehab program to help your body recover. Because open heart surgery typically involves fixing a major issue with the heart, many patients report that once they’ve fully recovered, they feel even better than before surgery. It will take time, often up to six months, to completely heal and adjust to the changes in your body. But once you’re fully recovered, there’s a good chance you’ll feel completely different and better than before.

Open heart surgery is a big step, but if you need it, rest assured you’ll be in safe hands at Oklahoma Heart Hospital. If you have concerns or questions about your heart health, contact us today to schedule an appointment with one of our specialists.