Get Transitional Care Services to Help Recover from Heart Surgery

Recovering from heart surgery means experiencing a variety of transitional care needs, from dietary changes to incision care, managing pain, swelling minimization, and more. The last thing an older adult wants after coming back home from such a traumatic event is to face the need for rehospitalization.

To help an older loved one recover as comfortably as possible after heart surgery, review the following recommendations for effective transitional care:

Incision Care

Details on how to care for the incision will be supplied prior to being discharged from the hospital. Issues to be aware of include:

  • Avoid extreme cold or hot water temperatures, as they can cause dizziness.
  • Always keep the incision clean and dry.
  • The incision can be gently washed (don’t rub) with soap. Do not use lotions or creams on incisions until healing is complete.
  • Occasionally, a swelling or lump appears at the top of the chest incision, and can take several months to go away completely.
  • If the incision is healing and dry, brief showers (no longer than 10 minutes) are normally permitted. If there are sutures in the chest, stand with back to the shower spray.
  • If showers are not available, quick baths (limited to ten minutes) may be taken.

Managing Pain

In the beginning of the recovery process, there may be some incision or muscle discomfort in the chest area during physical activity, but this should not include any pain that is similar to the pain they experienced before the surgery.

  • Itching, tightness and/or numbness in the area of the incision are common after surgery.
  • If the surgery was bypass surgery, and if vein grafts from the legs were used, there may be more pain in the legs than surrounding the chest incision.
  • Walking, daily activities, and time will help to decrease leg discomfort and stiffness.
  • A prescription for a pain medication will be given prior to leaving the hospital.


It’s not uncommon to return home with a certain amount of swelling in the legs and feet, specifically if vein grafts were taken from the legs. If swelling is noted:

  • Walk daily even if legs are swollen.
  • Lift feet higher than heart level when resting. Aim to do this three times a day for one hour to minimize swelling. (Note: recliners do not properly elevate feet.)
  • Do not cross legs while lying in bed or sitting. This puts pressure on the veins underneath the knees and slows down blood flow.
  • Hospital support hose may be suggested.

The recovery and transitional care time period can be an overwhelming time and you may be tempted to call the physician over each and every discomfort or symptom. Below are the symptoms that warrant a call to the physician right away:

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

The professional home care team at Dakota Home Care can be a major help in keeping an older adult on the road to recovery after heart surgery by providing transitional care services, helping around the residence and with meals to allow them to rest and recuperate, running errands, picking up medications, and so much more. Reach out to us online or call (877) 691-0015 to discover more about how we can help you in Mandan, Fargo, and Bismarck.

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