Heart Surgery Recovery: Guidelines to Help Bring Healing and Comfort

caregiver and senior woman at breakfast looking at tablet

Know the guidelines for heart surgery recovery in order to help seniors get back to their routine.

Every day, thousands of heart surgeries take place across the United States. From open heart surgery to valve repair, there are a variety of procedures available to help people maintain an active lifestyle in spite of a cardiac event.

And while there may be some apprehension in leaving the watchful eyes of the hospital staff following heart surgery, returning to the comfort of home can bring a particular peace of mind. Recovering in your own bed, getting more restful, uninterrupted sleep, sitting in your favorite chair, eating home cooked food, and having the opportunity for fresh air are just a few of the benefits of recovering at home.

In addition to the detailed instructions your doctor will provide before discharge, these heart surgery recovery guidelines can help:

Care of Incision

  • Keep the incision clean and dry.
  • The incision can be gently washed (don’t rub) with soap. Do not use creams or lotions on incisions until they are healed.

Pain Relief

  • A prescription for a pain medication will be given before leaving the hospital.
  • Itching, tightness and/or numbness along the incision are normal after surgery.

Diet and Sleep

  • The doctor will instruct if a special diet is to be followed. A regular appetite should          return within a few weeks.
  • It’s not unusual to have trouble sleeping for some time after surgery. Normal sleep patterns should return within a few months.


  • Three times per day, place feet up higher than heart level when resting. (Note: recliners do not adequately elevate feet.)
  • Do not cross legs while lying in bed or sitting. This puts pressure on the veins under the knees and slows blood flow.


  • Do not lift objects greater than 20 pounds.
  • Walk daily. The doctor or cardiac rehabilitation specialist will give guidelines for walking upon returning home.

Mental Functioning and Heart Surgery

  • The entire body, including the brain, was seriously stressed during surgery. With time, in most cases, normal cognitive functioning returns.
  • Avoid situations, people, or topics of conversation that create tension or invoke anger. The heart works harder when emotions are unsettled and uncomfortable.

When to Call the Doctor

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

Hillendale Home Care offers a wide range of in-home care services to help older adults recover from heart surgery — from providing medication reminders and assistance with bathing, to preparing nutritious meals and helping encourage daily activity to build strength and stamina, and so much more. Our compassionate and highly trained care team provides home care services in Walnut Creek and the surrounding areas to help your loved one adhere to post-op instructions while recovering in the comfort of home. Give us a call today at 925-933-8181 and learn more about our top-rated home care services.