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Immediate recovery from open heart surgery begins with the patient being taken to the intensive care unit (ICU) for close monitoring. If the surgery went well and the immediate recovery goes well, most of the tubes and special equipment will be removed within the first 24 to 48 hours. When the doctor feels that the patient is ready, the patient will be transferred to a special hospital room, and eventually will be able to go home to complete his or her recovery. Follow-up visits are also part of the recovery process.

(Technically speaking, an open heart surgery is any procedure where the chest is opened, which certainly includes procedures beyond a heart bypass (a valve replacement, for example). However, because a heart bypass is the most common type of open heart surgery, for the purposes of this article, we will be using the terms "bypass" and "open heart surgery" interchangeably.)

Open Heart Surgery Recovery: Moving to the Intensive Care Unit

At the end of the open heart surgery, you will be transported directly to the intensive care unit (ICU). Here, you will be with other patients and your healthcare providers will monitor your condition closely.
As you slowly wake up, you might begin to feel some discomfort in your chest and throat. Several catheters and tubes will still be in place, including your breathing tube. You will probably be aware of these, and they may feel uncomfortable. This is normal. Your healthcare team is aware of these possible feelings and will attempt to minimize your discomfort.
Many specially trained doctors and healthcare professionals qualified in intensive care medicine will be assisting you in your recovery.
After open heart surgery, your doctor will discuss your surgery with your family or friends who accompanied you to the hospital. They will be able to visit you at scheduled times in your intensive care room. They should be prepared to see you surrounded by monitors and tubes, such as the breathing tube, and connected to special equipment.
The breathing tube and special breathing equipment are necessary following the surgery. As you begin to wake up from the anesthesia, you might find that breathing through it is uncomfortable at first; however, as you become more used to it, this should improve. The breathing tube will be removed as soon as your healthcare providers feel that you can breathe on your own. This will vary with your individual situation; it can be as soon as six to eight hours after bypass surgery, but it is more commonly the next day.
You will receive medications to relieve your pain and discomfort, to help your heart beat stronger or more effectively, and to prevent infections. X-rays and blood tests will be performed to monitor your progress. You will eventually be encouraged to sit up in a chair, as well as eat and drink.
If your open heart surgery and immediate recovery goes well, most of the tubes and special equipment will be removed within the first 24 to 48 hours. This is approximately how long your stay in the ICU will be. However, it is possible that your stay may be longer, depending on your health, the outcome of your surgery, and your ability to recover.
Written by/reviewed by:
Last reviewed by: Arthur Schoenstadt, MD
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