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After heart bypass surgery

Getting on with your life after the initial recovery

Heart bypass surgery, coronary artery bypass graft, or CABG (pronounced cabbage) - no matter what you call it, it's a life-changing experience. Whether you had a single, double, triple, quadruple, or even a quintuple bypass, a full recovery may take you a few months or more. And the recovery isn't just physical - it's an emotional recovery as well.

Read Lorie's story.

You likely had a lot of support in the first few weeks. Then you were on your own.

Work
Many people return to work after about six weeks - if you have a physically demanding or extremely stressful job, you may need to wait a little longer to return to work. In some cases you may have to consider finding other employment or perhaps retirement.

Activities
The sternum (the bone in the middle of your chest), which was opened during your surgery will usually take about 12 weeks to heal.

There are some activities you will need to avoid before you heal completely. These include carrying anything heavier than a gallon of milk, golf, basketball, tennis, or vigorous swimming - but you can walk or ride a bike.

See Nando's story.

Once you are through the initial recovery period, you can get back to all your regular activities - and maybe more. Many people go on to lead very active and busy lives after a bypass.

To further illustrate this, one source suggests that after three months you can take on

  • Heavy housework such as scrubbing floors (yeah, but who wants to!)
  • Heavy gardening
  • Football/Soccer
  • Softball/Baseball
  • Tennis
  • Bowling
  • Hunting
  • Jogging
  • Bicycling
  • Golfing
  • Weight lifting
  • Motorcycle riding
  • Push-ups
  • Swimming
  • Water skiing
  • Skydiving (I did this when I was younger. I'm not sure I'd try it now that I have heart disease.)

Some of these things you will want to do, and others won't tempt you.

Please check with your doctor before you start a new exercise program, especially before you try anything extreme!

Cardiac rehabilitation
Some of you will have been supported by a cardiac rehab program to help you understand the physical changes in your body, the lifestyle changes you need to make, and how exercise - even if it seems scary at first - is absolutely essential to your ongoing health. If you were unable to participate in a cardiac rehab program, please use the resources in this web site to help you make and sustain the lifestyle changes you need for a heart healthy future.

CHANGE FOR THE BETTER

If we don't change direction soon, we'll end up where we're going.
Irwin Corey

It's important to understand that bypass surgery deals with a symptom - blocked arteries. It does not deal with the cause. That's why lifestyle changes are so important. You have probably heard the saying (I'll paraphrase it) - you can't expect different results if you keep doing the same things. If you want to change your risk for further heart disease, you need to change your life.

Quit smoking
If you're a smoker, you must quit. If you keep smoking your arteries will re-block, possibly very quickly. Not only do you need to stop smoking, you need to avoid second hand smoke.

Change your diet
Eat a heart healthy diet. Reduce sugars and carbohydrates. Lose weight to reduce the stress on your cardiovascular system.

Exercise
If you've already started an exercise program - keep it up. If you haven't - there's no time like the present to get, and stay, fit. Just start moving!

Control your blood pressure
It's essential to know and to monitor your blood pressure carefully after bypass surgery. Poor control of blood pressure can worsen artery health and speed up changes in your bypass grafts.

If you have diabetes...
Controlling your blood sugar is always important. After heart surgery it is even more important to help keep the bypass grafts open. Work with your health care team to keep your diabetes in check.

Altered body image
After bypass surgery, not only may you feel your body has let you down, but you will have a big scar that runs right down the center of your chest to deal with.

Some people try to hide their scar. Others see it as a badge of honor or courage. Kathy Kastan, author of From the Heart and President of WomenHeart: The national Coalition for Women with Heart Disease, posed for the jacket of her book with her shirt open to reveal her scar.

Your reaction to this change in your body is a very personal issue. If your scar is angry or uncomfortable or if you just cannot accept the look of it, you can look into a "scar revision". Talk to your cardiologist. He or she may be able to recommend a plastic surgeon who may be able to help you.

Sex
Sexual problems and concerns are common, occurring in up to 50 to 75 percent of people after bypass surgery. Both men and women may have less frequent sex or feel less satisfied with their sexual activity. A variety of factors may contribute, including side effects of drugs (such as beta blockers), depression, and fears about triggering a heart attack or dying.

How long will my bypass last?
Successful grafts will typically last 10 to 15 years but grafts can become diseased and re-block in the months to years after bypass surgery. Younger people with no other complicating diseases will have a greater probability of long lasting, clear grafts. Older patients have a higher probability of suffering further blockage of the arteries.

Did you have a bypass? Share your story with other site visitors... it could be an inspiration!


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