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Hospital  >  Care Programs  >  Schulich Heart Program  >  Patients and visitors  >  Recovering from surgery  >  Physical changes
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Physical changes

Incisions

The appearance of your incision(s) will continue to improve. During the first weeks after surgery you may notice:

  • Itching (do NOT apply any lotions or creams or powders until healed and the scabs have come off
  • Swelling
  • Redness or bruising
  • Numbness or soreness (numbness of the breast area, particularly if the mammary artery was used)
These are all common and gradually disappear. For incision discomfort you may take Tylenol or another medication ordered by your doctor. You may also use a heating pad (wrapped in a towel) which is turned on low for 20 - 30 minutes, 3 - 4 times a day. To prevent further stiffness, move your head and neck muscles normally, as well as maintaining good posture.

When you move or take a deep breath during the first 4 - 6 weeks after your surgery, you may notice a slight clicking or movement of your breastbone. This is normal and should disappear in 4 - 12 weeks.

For optimal wound healing sunlight exposure to your incision should be restricted for about 1 year. Cover your incision with clothing. If necessary you may use sunscreen about 4 - 6 weeks after your surgery.

Women are encouraged to wear a comfortable cotton bra for support. Avoid bras with front closures or underwire, if they touch the incision.

 

Circulation

It is common for your legs to swell after heart surgery, especially the leg where you have had a vein removed. To help decrease swelling and improve circulation in your affected leg:

  • Continue doing ankle pumping and lower leg exercises frequently.
  • Elevate your leg whenever sitting for longer than 15 - 20 minutes.
  • When resting in bed, raise your legs higher than your heart.
  • DO NOT CROSS YOUR LEGS. This causes less blood flow.
  • Avoid standing or sitting for long periods of time.
  • Continue with your walking exercises.
  • You will NOT need to wear elastic stockings at home unless recommended by your physician.
  • As your circulation improves, the swelling will gradually decrease - usually within a few months. However, if you notice persistent swelling in both ankles, let your doctor know. Some surgeons will want you to wear tensor bandages on your legs. You will be given instructions if this is the case.

Bathing

At home you should shower regularly - avoid baths until your incision is healed. Have someone assist you if you feel weak. Many patients find it useful to have a stool to sit on while in the shower. Clean your incision gently with mild, unscented soap and water. Do not use lotions, creams or vitamin E. Do not scrub the area or use extremely hot or cold water! Very hot water may cause you to feel dizzy or weak.

Rest and sleep

An important part of recovery after your operation is to get enough rest and sleep. After surgery, it is common to have some temporary changes of sleep habits. You may
experience difficulty sleeping at night or have strange dreams. This is usually temporary, consult with your family doctor if this persists.

Recreation

It is okay to participate in card or board games as soon as you go home. You have to avoid more physical activities, such as bowling, golf, tennis, until your surgeon advises you. You should also avoid getting into any heated discussions.