Making the Rounds: Recovering from cardiovascular surgery

Roy Robertson, MD, president, Parkview Heart Institute, explains the physical and emotional challenges that follow common cardiovascular procedures.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 800,000 Americans suffer from a heart attack each year. That’s 1 heart attack every 40 seconds. As a result, the need for cardiovascular surgeries has become increasingly common.

While the technical nature and expertise of the physicians is important for the procedure, the recovery period is just as crucial. The human body needs some special attention in order to heal.

The Parkview Heart Institute team offers a wide variety of recovery options for their patients. Cardiac Rehabilitation actually monitors patients while exercising and while in a resting state to see how their body is responding to the treatment they received. The staff will also gather a careful history and perform physical examinations after treatment to learn additional details during recovery.

Additionally, the team will look at how the patient is recovering mentally. Being ill can generate something called situational depression, which is a depressive state during a challenging time. There are actual physiological changes that occur with illness and those can spur mental distress and challenges in how the patient processes information. They might become overwhelmed or discouraged. Depression is a major concern during the recovery period.  

Patients are typically released from the hospital when they are able to proceed with self-care activities like eating, getting dressed and sleeping. It’s expected that, once the patient goes home, they will experience a few weeks when their body is still recovering. But the care team is watching for any indication of the patient feeling worse. This might present as shortness of breath, chest discomfort, difficulties with energy or side effects from medications, or a change in the way the patient feels overall. The important thing to understand is, just because you’re being discharged, does not mean the healing process is stopping. The healing is evolving, just in a different environment.

Attending follow-up appointments is crucial for recovery. It is important that your recovery progress is assessed regularly. For example, there’s a big difference between having a heart valve placed by traditional surgery and having a heart valve replaced by catheter, which would require fewer incisions. In other words, we put a lot of value on individualizing every patient’s recovery. You will get instructions and knowledge during this time to help identify your personal goals and get you equipped to return to a healthy life.

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