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How much pain will I feel after open heart surgery?

After surgery, it takes 4 to 6 weeks to completely heal and start feeling better. It is normal to:
  • Have pain in your chest area around your incision
  • Have a poor appetite for 2 to 4 weeks
  • Have mood swings and feel depressed
  • Have swelling in the leg that the vein graft was taken from
  • Feel itchy, numb, or tingly around the incisions on your chest and leg for 6 months or more
  • Have trouble sleeping at night
  • Be constipated from pain medicines
  • Have trouble with short-term memory or feel confused ("fuzzy-headed")
  • Be tired or not have much energy
  • Have some shortness of breath. This may be worse if you also have lung problems.
  • Some patients may use oxygen when they go home.
  • Have weakness in your arms for the first month
Open heart surgery is typically a lot less painful than thoracic or abdominal surgery. After discharge, most patients need just a pain pill a day for an additional week, and then Tylenol is sufficient. Most patients are back to driving by two to three weeks and regular exercise by four to six weeks. Almost all patients are eating normally by seven days after surgery.
Generally, open heart surgery is not a painful experience. One notable exception is the removal of the drainage tubes, which typically occurs on post-operative day one. It may feel a bit odd and sometimes can be a brief source of pain. It will feel uncomfortable when you cough, laugh, or sneeze. This discomfort may last for about a month. To alleviate this pain, it is helpful to have a cough buddy (some sort of pillow which is often provided by your hospital). Wrap your arms around the bear and squeeze it against your breastbone when you cough.

During your hospital stay, pain medicine is provided. There is no value in trying to wait until the pain is unbearable before requesting pain medicine. It is far easier to prevent pain then it is to alleviate it. After a few days, most patients just take Tylenol, although narcotics are available on request. A prescription for narcotics is usually provided upon discharge.

Continue Learning about Heart Surgeries

Heart Surgeries

Heart Surgeries

More than a half million surgeries are done each year to correct heart problems in children and adults. One of the most common types of heart surgery performed is coronary artery bypass grafting, which uses a blood vessel taken fr...

om another part of the body to bypass a blocked artery and help prevent a heart attack. Another is heart valve replacement, used to repair heart valves that don't open and close properly. Heart surgery can be minimally invasive, such as when a small incision is made to the chest to insert a pacemaker. At the other extreme is open-heart surgery, which requires a large incision to the chest to open the rib cage and operate on the heart. Learn more about the different kinds of heart surgeries with expert advice from Sharecare.
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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.