Heart surgery and recovery

Once you have been discharged from hospital after heart surgery, this information is about your recovery and includes:

Everyone recovers differently after surgery and this information is a useful guide on what to expect and what you can do to return to your normal activities. 

If you are concerned about a medical problem contact your GP or call 111 immediately. If your symptoms get worse suddenly please go to your local emergency department (A&E) or call an ambulance (999).

The first few days

We recommend that an adult stays with you for the first week. You should take things easy with plenty of rest. It is normal to feel tired and emotional when you first get home.

The first few weeks

Take time to return to your normal routines and balance in your life. You may have good days where you feel really positive and feel that you are making progress, but also bad days where you feel down, emotional or tearful. You may also notice a loss of concentration or short-term memory. 

All these reactions are normal and usually go away in time. 

Follow up appointments

Visit your GP

Make an appointment with your GP for 1 to 2 weeks after your discharge for a check-up. Your GP can review the medicines, check your weight, heart rate and blood pressure.  We send a copy of your discharge letter to your GP but it’s a good idea to take your copy with you in case your GP hasn’t received it. 

Your hospital outpatient appointment

You will be given a date for a follow-up appointment usually 6 to 8 weeks after your surgery to check how you are feeling and recovering. We will also talk about any expected test results and whether any further treatment or tests are needed. This is also an opportunity for you to ask any questions you have.

If you do not receive a follow-up outpatient appointment, please contact our pathway co-ordinator on 0207 188 1044.

Cardiac rehabilitation

Cardiac rehabilitation is a nationwide programme, available at your local hospital. The programme will help you recover, get back to normal and teach you how to manage if you have ongoing heart disease. You will be referred to your local centre who will contact you usually within the first few weeks although it will be several weeks before you start classes.

You do not have to take part in the programme but most people who attend cardiac rehabilitation programmes have an improved quality of life and better long-term outcomes. It can also help with return to work and everyday activities. Speak to your physiotherapist if you are unsure about attending the programme.

The programme includes:

  • exercise tailored to your individual needs 
  • information and discussion sessions about how to keep your heart healthy and prevent further problems
  • stress management and relaxation 
  • support from health professionals and patients with similar heart conditions

The cardiac rehabilitation nurses can support you and your family. You can contact them on 020 7188 0946, Monday to Friday, 9am and 5pm. If there is no answer leave your name and number on the answering machine and you will be contacted as soon as possible.


Most people need to take regular pain relief for 3 to 4 weeks. If you have regular pain, it is important that you take your painkillers on a regular basis for the first few days. This will keep the medicine at a constant level in your body and will control your pain better.

Some people need to take occasional pain relief for 8 weeks or longer. After a few weeks you may be able to gradually reduce your painkillers until you do not need them any more. If you are taking different kinds of painkillers, we will tell you which to stop first, and suggest how to reduce them gradually.

Before your surgery, you may have been given a medicine called glyceryl trinitrate, or GTN. This is a mouth spray or tablet which you use when you experience chest pain. After surgery you should not need to use this anymore.

If you experience chest pains that are not from your wound, speak to your GP, call 111 or go to your local emergency department (A&E).

It is normal to have some discomfort around your wound area at first. This will gradually ease over the next few months. You may also experience pain and stiffness around your chest, back and shoulders, as the muscles and ligaments that are stretched during surgery start to heal.

Always follow the instructions on the packet and your discharge letter and never take more than the recommended dose.  You should be able to move around without too much discomfort, take a deep breath and cough. 

Please contact your GP if you find the pain difficult to control once you are home.

If you have any questions about your medicines, speak to a member of your medical team or your pharmacist. Or you can call our Pharmacy Medicines Helpline on: 020 7188 8748 (9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday).


Your wound is exposed and it is important to make sure that the area remains clean.

In the first week

If possible, avoid having a bath as soaking your wounds in water increases the chance of infection.

You can shower but you should avoid standing with the water spraying directly on your wounds.

Gently bathe your wound in warm water every day if possible. This may also help with your pain. Do not use soap, perfume, put salt or products in the water or on your wound until it has healed, as these could irritate the area.

Pat the wounds gently when drying with a clean towel.

After the first week

You can have a bath or shower as normal, but please keep your wounds clean and dry at all other times.

Avoid using creams or ointments on your wounds until they have fully healed as this will prevent any delay in your wound healing.

Avoid exposing your wound to direct sunlight for at least 6 weeks as this can irritate the skin.

Your wounds may feel itchy or numb. This is a normal part of healing.

You may also have a small notch of skin at the top of your chest wound, this will settle gradually as the wound heals.

It is important to remember to wash your hands regularly and avoid scratching your wounds to avoid getting an infection.

Signs of having an infection

  • The skin round your wound gets red or sore or it feels hot and swollen.
  • Your wound has a fluid discharge, often green or yellow coloured pus.
  • Your wound opens up.
  • You feel generally unwell or feverish, or you have a temperature.

Any infection should be treated as soon as possible to prevent it from becoming more serious.

Contact us or your GP if you are concerned about having an infection.

Side effects and symptoms

It will take a while for you and your body to return to normal. Most of these will resolve on their own.

If these symptoms and side effects take a long time to resolve, or if you are worried or feel unwell you should contact us or your GP for advice.

It is very common to have difficulties having a poo (opening your bowels) after surgery. It is because of the painkillers and a change in diet and routine. Returning to normal eating habits will usually resolve this.

It can help to:

  • drink plenty of fluids
  • eat fruit, vegetables and fibre (such as cereals, brown bread, brown rice)

Do not stop taking your painkillers.

Your eyesight may be affected and some people complain of blurring or double vision. Make sure you tell your GP if you experience this. Your eyesight should return to normal within about 3 months. If you wear glasses, wait about 3 months before going to the optician.

It is very common after heart surgery to think that you can see things that are not really there. Some people also have very strange dreams. This is may be caused by effects of the operation, anaesthetic and medicines. 

It is quite common to feel that your heart is racing or missing a beat. It can be treated with medicine but often the heartbeat will return to normal without medicine. 

It is quite normal to feel a little short of breath when moving about for some time after your surgery. This should start to get better as you become more active. 

Contact us or your GP if: 

  • you notice that you are short of breath when resting 
  • you are becoming more short of breath when moving about

It may take some time to get back into your normal sleeping pattern. 

You can sleep in whichever position you find comfortable. 

You may find you want an afternoon nap. This is ok, but try not to stay in bed for too long, as you may then have difficulty sleeping at night. 

You may find that your ankles swell after surgery. It can help to keep active and resting your legs up on a stool when you are sitting. 

If you have had a vein removed from your leg, it is likely to swell for the first couple of months but will gradually settle. Avoid crossing your legs when sitting or lying as this can restrict the blood flow to them, and increase swelling.

The swelling should go away after a few days.   

Resource number: 5456/VER1
Published date: December 2023
Review date: December 2026

Contact us

We answer the phones Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm. If we are unable to answer your call, please leave a voicemail. We reply within 1 working day.

We aim to reply to emails within 2 working days.

Clinical help and advice

If you are an existing patient and need medical advice, please call our advanced nurse practitioner.

Phone: 020 7188 1085 or 020 7188 7567 Monday to Friday, 8am to 5pm.

If we are unable to answer your call, please leave a voicemail. We aim to reply within 1 working day.

Related information

How to prepare for heart surgery

We also have information about how to prepare for heart surgery and what you can do while you wait. This includes information about:

  • types of heart surgery
  • risks and complications
  • pre-assessment appointment
  • medicines
  • hospital bag checklist
  • how to prepare your body
  • how to prepare your mind
  • how to prepare your home

Having heart surgery

We also have information about having heart surgery and what to expect. This includes information about:

  • your surgery
  • having anaesthetic for heart surgery
  • what to expect on the ward
  • leaving hospital

Do you have any comments or concerns about your care?

Contact our Patient Advice and Liaison Service (PALS)

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