Doctor with heart failure patient.

14 Tips for Understanding and Recovering from Heart Failure Surgery

JULY 10, 2023


Undergoing heart failure (HF) surgery is a significant medical procedure to improve your heart function and alleviate symptoms. Not every person with HF is a good candidate for surgery. But according to the Cleveland Clinic, surgery can be an option “if you have severe heart failure that hasn’t responded to medications and lifestyle changes.”

The specific expectations and challenges following HF surgery can vary depending on the type of surgery performed and individual circumstances. This post will cover: 

  • Types of HF surgery
  • What to expect after HF surgery
  • Tips for a safe and thorough recovery

Heart Failure Procedures: An Overview

HF surgery is not one-size-fits-all. In fact, there are a number of procedures — ranging from minimally invasive to major surgery — that your doctor may recommend depending on the extent of your HF and underlying conditions. Some of the most common surgical interventions for HF include: 

  • Coronary Angioplasty and Stent. This procedure involves inflating a small balloon inside a blocked or narrowed coronary artery to improve blood flow to the heart. It’s a less invasive treatment option that can relieve some symptoms of HF. During or after angioplasty, a small mesh tube may be placed in the artery to keep it open, providing a long-term solution for maintaining blood flow. This procedure can enhance heart function and quality of life for HF patients, particularly those with narrowed or blocked arteries.
  • Left Ventricular Assist Device (LVAD). An LVAD is a pump inserted into the chest that is designed to help the heart’s left ventricle pump blood to the rest of your body. LVADs are typically used in severe cases where medication is no longer effective.
  • Coronary Artery Bypass Grafting (CABG). CABG treats severe coronary artery disease by taking a healthy blood vessel from another part of the body and attaching it to restore blood flow to the heart. This procedure can be helpful if your HF is caused by severe coronary artery disease. 
  • Heart valve repair or replacement. If your HF is caused by a damaged heart valve, you might need surgery to repair or replace it. Heart valve repair or replacement surgery treats conditions like valve stenosis or other valve conditions that inhibit the heart from pumping blood effectively.
  • Cardiac Resynchronization Therapy (CRT) Devices and Implantable Cardioverter Defibrillators (ICDs).These devices are implanted in your chest to help regulate your heartbeat. CRT helps synchronize the heart’s contractions, and ICDs correct heart rhythm problems.
  • Heart transplant. In cases of severe HF, surgeons may opt to replace the entire heart with a healthy donor heart. This is often a last resort when HF is life-threatening and other treatments have been unsuccessful.

HF Surgery Recovery: What to Expect

The first phase of heart failure surgery recovery is a critical period typically lasting six to eight weeks. During this time, your body needs ample rest and care to heal properly and regain strength. When you are discharged from the hospital, your health care team will provide you with instructions for post-surgery care. These instructions are designed to support physical healing and enhance overall well-being.

  • Recovery period. After HF surgery, you will require a recovery period that can range from weeks to months, depending on the surgery’s complexity and your overall health. You may experience fatigue, limited mobility and discomfort or pain during this time.
  • Hospital stay. You will be closely monitored initially to ensure your recovery is progressing well. The length of your hospital stay will depend on the type of surgery and your individual condition.
  • Medication adjustments. Your doctor may change your medication regimen after surgery. This can include adjusting dosages, adding new medications or discontinuing certain drugs. It’s important to follow your doctor’s instructions regarding medication management.

Potential Complications
While HF surgeries are generally safe, there are potential risks and complications associated with any surgical procedure. These can include infection, bleeding, blood clots, arrhythmias or adverse reactions to anesthesia or medications. Your health care team will closely monitor you for any signs of complications and provide appropriate care if needed. Using an app like Cormeum, you can transmit data to your health care team, allowing them to catch any complications quickly.

14 Tips for Recovery After HF Surgery

First, you should always follow any and all of your health care provider’s instructions, as they know what’s best for your individual circumstances. However, it’s likely that they will make you aware of several lifestyle modifications and care tips after HF surgery.

1. Watch sodium intake
Monitoring and limiting sodium (salt) intake is crucial in managing heart failure. Excessive sodium can lead to fluid retention, which can strain your heart. Follow your doctor’s guidelines for sodium intake and pay attention to food labels to make informed choices. Avoid adding extra salt to your meals and limit consumption of processed and packaged foods, as they tend to be high in sodium.

2. Eat smaller meals (and eat more slowly) for better metabolization
Eating smaller, more frequent meals can help prevent overeating and aid in digestion. This approach reduces the strain on your digestive system and allows your body to metabolize food more efficiently. Take your time while eating, chew your food thoroughly and practice mindful eating to promote proper digestion.

3. Avoid smoking and alcohol
Smoking and excessive alcohol consumption can impair wound healing and increase the risk of complications. If you smoke or drink alcohol, you should avoid these habits to promote optimal healing.

4. Obey no-driving advisory
It’s common for health care providers to recommend refraining from driving for a certain period after HF surgery. The exact duration will depend on your individual circumstances, the type of surgery and your recovery progress. This advisory is in place to ensure your safety and prevent potential complications from driving too soon. Follow your doctor’s instructions regarding driving restrictions, and always prioritize your safety.

5. Rest and sleep
After undergoing HF surgery or living with heart failure, it’s important to prioritize physical rest. Your body needs time to recover and heal from the stresses of surgery. Listen to your body and give yourself adequate rest periods throughout the day. This may include taking short naps or breaks to conserve energy and prevent excessive fatigue.

Quality sleep is essential for your overall health and well-being. Aim for seven to eight hours of uninterrupted sleep each night. Proper sleep helps restore your body, support immune function, regulate hormones and promote cardiovascular health. It can also help reduce stress and improve mental clarity.

6. Pain relief
Your health care provider may prescribe pain medications to help alleviate discomfort. The type of medication and dosage will depend on the nature and severity of your pain. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) may be prescribed for mild to moderate pain, but it’s important to use them under your doctor’s supervision as they can have potential side effects on the heart and kidneys. Opioids may be prescribed for severe pain but are typically used cautiously due to potential risks and side effects.

7. Keep the incision clean and dry
Avoid getting the incision wet until your health care provider gives you the go-ahead. Keep the area clean by gently washing it with mild soap and water, being careful not to scrub or rub the incision. Pat the area dry with a clean towel or allow it to air dry.

8. Dressing changes
Your health care provider will inform you about when and how to change the dressing on your incision. Follow their instructions regarding the type of dressing and the frequency of changes. Maintaining a sterile environment while changing the dressing is important to minimize the risk of infection.

9. Monitor for signs of infection
Keep a close eye on your incision for signs of infection, such as increased redness, swelling, warmth, drainage (particularly if it becomes thick, pus-like or foul-smelling) or fever. If you notice any concerning signs, notify your health care provider immediately.

10. Emotional well-being
Taking care of your emotional well-being after heart failure (HF) surgery is essential for overall recovery and quality of life. It’s normal to experience a range of emotions after HF surgery, including anxiety, fear, sadness or frustration. Allow yourself to acknowledge and express these emotions in a healthy way. Talk to your loved ones, join support groups or consider speaking with a mental health professional who can provide guidance and support.

11. Attend one-week and 30-day follow-up appointments
After HF surgery, you can expect follow-up appointments with your health care team. These appointments are crucial for monitoring your recovery progress, assessing the effectiveness of the surgery and addressing any concerns or complications. The timing of these appointments may vary depending on your specific situation, but it’s common to have a follow-up appointment within one week after surgery and another around 30 days after surgery. These appointments allow your health care team to adjust your treatment plan and provide ongoing support. 

12. Manage your medication long-term
Following HF procedures, you will likely need to continue taking medications to manage your condition and prevent complications. It’s important to adhere to your prescribed medication regimen and attend regular follow-up appointments to monitor its effectiveness and potential side effects.

13. Attend cardiac rehabilitation
Participation in a cardiac rehabilitation program may be recommended after your HF procedure. These programs typically involve supervised exercise, education on heart-healthy habits and support in adjusting to life after surgery. Engaging in cardiac rehabilitation can enhance your recovery, provide guidance on exercise routines and offer ongoing support and education.

14. Manage your HF at home
It’s incredibly important to monitor your recovery throughout the whole process. Apps such as Cormeum can allow you to transmit real-time data, such as vital signs, symptoms, medication adherence or other relevant health information, to your health care team. This enables them to have up-to-date and accurate information about your recovery progress.

Live Well with Heart Failure

By following these tips and working closely with your health care team, you can enhance your quality of life, promote heart health and navigate the recovery journey with confidence. Remember, your heath care providers are your partners in this process, so it’s important to communicate openly, ask questions if you’re unsure, and seek their guidance whenever needed.