You'll usually need to stay in hospital for around 5 to 7 days after having a coronary artery bypass graft (CABG). This is so medical staff can watch your recovery.
During this time, you may be connected to various tubes, drips and drains that provide you with fluids and drain blood and urine. These will be removed as you get better.
It's likely you'll feel some discomfort and grogginess after the procedure. You'll be given painkillers to help relieve any pain. Tell your doctor or nurse if the pain gets worse.
Recovering from a coronary artery bypass graft procedure takes time. Everyone recovers at slightly different speeds. Generally, you should be able to sit in a chair after 1 day, walk after 3 days and walk up and down stairs after 5 or 6 days.
Most people make a full recovery within 12 weeks of the operation. But if you experience complications during or after surgery, your recovery time is likely to be longer.
To ease any soreness where the cuts were made, you may need to continue taking painkillers at home for a few weeks. Wearing loose, comfortable clothing that does not rub on your wounds can also help.
For the first 3 to 6 weeks, you'll probably feel tired a lot of the time. This is because your body is using a lot of energy to heal itself. By 6 weeks, you should be able to do most of your normal activities and by 3 months, you're likely to be fully recovered.
Caring for your wound
The metal wires holding your breastbone (sternum) together are permanent. You will not see these wires or be aware of them. The stitches closing your skin will dissolve over the weeks as your skin heals.
While you're recovering in hospital, you'll be told about how to care for your wounds at home. It's important to keep the wounds clean and protect them from the sun while they're healing.
You'll have a scar where the surgeon cut down your chest and where they took any grafted blood vessels. These will be red at first, but will fade over time.
The team caring for you in hospital can tell you about any activities you need to avoid as you recover.
Generally, in the first few days after you return home from hospital, you can do light activities. These could be walking short distances, cooking and lifting light objects.
After about 6 weeks, you may be well enough to do slightly more strenuous activities. These could be driving, carrying children, vacuuming, mowing the lawn and having sex.
The length of time you need off work varies from person to person. If you're recovering well and your job isn't physically strenuous, you can usually go back to work in about 6 to 8 weeks. But you'll normally need more time off if you have any complications.
While recovering, it's best to try to build up your activities over time. Make sure you take regular rests when you feel tired.
Side effects of surgery
After you've been sent home from hospital, you may experience some side effects as a result of the operation.
These can include:
- loss of appetite
- swelling or pins and needles where the blood vessel graft was removed
- muscle pain or back pain
- tiredness and difficulty sleeping
- feeling upset and having mood swings
It's natural to feel a bit low after having bypass surgery. You'll experience good and bad days. It's important to remember your recovery will take weeks rather than days.
Side effects tend to disappear within 4 to 6 weeks of the operation. A full recovery may take a few months or longer. This will depend on your health before the procedure.
If you would like some extra support and advice while you recover, speak with your GP.
Urgent advice: Contact your GP as soon as possible if you experience any of the following problems:
- severe or increasing pain in or around the wound
- extreme shortness of breath
- swelling around the wound
- pus coming from the wound
- a high temperature (fever)
- palpitations that make you feel dizzy or faint
- excessive sweating
Many hospitals offer a cardiac rehabilitation programme for people who've had heart surgery. The programme aims to get you back to everyday life as quickly as possible.
A member of the cardiac rehabilitation team may speak to you about this when you go into hospital to have your operation. You may be invited to join a cardiac rehabilitation programme starting a few weeks after you leave hospital.
Most programmes will cover areas such as exercise, education, relaxation and emotional support.
Life after a coronary artery bypass graft
When you've recovered from your operation, it's important to adopt a healthy lifestyle. This will reduce your risk of developing further heart problems in the future.
For example, you should:
- stop smoking if you smoke
- eat a healthy, balanced diet
- lose weight if you're overweight or obese
- moderate your alcohol intake
- exercise regularly
You should also continue to take any medicine you've been prescribed.
Content supplied by the NHS and adapted for Ireland by the HSE