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Physical issues after coronary bypass surgery

Coronary Bypass Recovery: What to Expect: Page 2

By , Caring.com senior editor
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Loss of appetite or constipation

What you can expect: It may take several weeks for a patient's appetite to return to normal. He may complain of nausea at the smell of food for a few weeks after the surgery. Constipation can also be a problem, and he should avoid straining on the toilet because it can elevate blood pressure and stress the heart.

What you can do:

  • Offer frequent, small meals instead of three large meals a day.

  • Ask him what foods are the most appealing.

  • Try bland foods with a soft consistency, like applesauce or oatmeal. Steer clear of spicy foods or those with a strong taste or smell.

  • To relieve constipation, offer lots of fluids and foods high in fiber. Prune juice contains a natural laxative.

  • Ask the doctor if the patient can take an over-the-counter laxative or stool softener.

Weakness, fatigue, and shortness of breath

What you can expect: Nearly all patients recovering from bypass surgery will experience weakness, fatigue, and shortness of breath.

What you can do:

  • As soon as you get the doctor's okay, encourage the patient to get moving. Just getting out of bed, taking a shower, and dressing may be exhausting at first. In the first week, he should begin walking for five minutes, five times a day. Although this won't seem like much activity to you, it can be very difficult for him. Acknowledge that he's having a hard time while encouraging him to continue. After a few days, you should notice a significant improvement in fatigue and shortness of breath.

  • Be patient, and encourage him to do the same. He's just been through a major ordeal and you should both expect recovery to take time.

  • Within a few weeks, he should be able to begin a modified exercise program. If he has always been fairly sedentary, he may resist this idea. You might motivate him to exercise by:

    • Helping him set specific, realistic goals.

    • Exercising with him.

    • Keeping a journal of his progress.

    • Getting him moving first thing in the morning.

    • Helping him find exercise he likes to do -- for instance, if he hates walking, ask him if he'd enjoy a swim instead.

  • Recognize that it's not all up to you. You can encourage him to exercise, but ultimately he'll have to decide he wants to do it.

Leg swelling

What you can expect: He may experience swollen legs for a few weeks after the operation. If the surgeon removed veins from his leg, the blood flow returning to the heart may be slower, causing fluid to accumulate in the ankles and lower legs. The swelling can be extremely uncomfortable.

What you can do:

  • While he's resting on the bed or couch, place several pillows under his legs to raise his feet higher than his heart. Do this for an hour at a time, at least three times a day.

  • Remind him not to sit in one position for a long time or cross his legs, which can impair blood flow.

  • Once the doctor gives the OK, encourage him to walk as much as possible. Even short jaunts around the house or yard can help promote circulation.

  • Ask the doctor if elastic support stockings might be helpful. You can buy these at any medical supply store and even at some drugstores.

  • Notify the doctor if swelling worsens significantly or persists even with regular activity and elevation of the legs. Fluid buildup in the legs is a symptom of heart failure.