Preparing for Heart Surgery

Unless your surgery is an emergency, talk to your doctor or other healthcare professionals to find out everything you can about your condition and the type of operation being recommended. Ask your healthcare team:

  • About the details of your surgery, including
    • the risks involved
    • how long the surgery will take
    • possible complications
    • the quality of life you can expect afterward
  • Where you can find additional information about your type of surgery
  • What you can do to prepare yourself on the days leading up to the surgery

What to Expect Before Surgery

According to the American Heart Association (AHA), you will probably be admitted to the hospital the afternoon before your heart surgery. Here's what you can expect:

  • Your healthcare team, including surgeons, cardiologists, anesthesiologists, nurses, and therapists, will pay you a visit to discuss your operation and answer any questions or concerns you may have
  • A battery of routine tests or procedures, such as an electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG) and chest X-ray
  • Your hair will be shaved around the area where the operation will be done and your skin will be washed with antiseptic soap to lower your risk of infection

What to Expect the Day of Surgery

  • Give your glasses, dentures, watch, jewelry, contact lenses, money, and any other personal items to family members for safe keeping
  • About an hour before your operation, you'll receive medications to help you relax
  • Attendants will wheel you to the operating room on a rolling bed
  • Once inside the operating room, anesthesia will be administered
  • Following surgery, you'll be moved to the intensive care unit (ICU) or to a recovery room for a day or more

What to Expect Following Surgery

Once you leave the ICU or the recovery room, you'll remain in the hospital for several days where your medical team will closely watch your heart rate, blood pressure, breathing, and the incision site. Before leaving the hospital your doctor will give you specific instructions on how to:

  • Care for your healing incision
  • Recognize the signs of infection or other complications
  • Cope with the after-effects of surgery, such as muscle pain, chest pain, or swelling

You will also be given information about follow-up appointments, medicines, and situations that require you call your doctor right away. You'll also be told when you can resume your normal activities.

American Heart Association. "How Can I Prepare for Heart Surgery?"

National Heart Lung and Blood Institute. "What to Expect After Heart Surgery."