July 17, 2023

nurse making heart shape with hands

We can help you manage the transitional care needs required after heart surgery!

There are a ton of transitional care needs required after heart surgery, from dietary changes to incision care, swelling minimization, pain management, and more. The last thing a person wants after returning home after such a stressful event is to face the need for rehospitalization.

To help a senior loved one recover as safely and comfortably as possible, read these suggestions on the transitional care needs required after heart surgery:

Pain Management

It’s normal to experience discomfort in the area of the incision or the muscles in the chest during the course of physical activity, but there should not be pain in the chest equal to the pain prior to surgery.

  • Itching, tightness and/or numbness in the area of the incision are common after surgery.
  • If the surgery was bypass surgery, and if vein grafts from the legs were used, there may be more pain in the legs than around the chest incision.
  • Walking, daily activities, and time will help to lessen leg discomfort and stiffness.
  • A prescription for a pain medicine will be given prior to leaving the hospital.


It is possible to go back home with some degree of swelling in the legs and feet, particularly if vein grafts were taken from the legs. If swelling is observed:

  • Elevate feet higher than heart level when resting. Try to do this three times a day for one hour to alleviate swelling. (Note: recliners do not properly elevate feet.)
  • Do not cross legs while lying in bed or sitting. This places pressure on the veins underneath the knees and slows down blood flow.
  • Walk daily even if legs are swollen.
  • Hospital support hose may be suggested.

Incision Care

Before leaving the hospital, you will receive instructions on how to care for the incision. Problems to be aware of include:

  • If the incision is healing and dry, quick showers (no more than 10 minutes) are generally allowed. If there are sutures in the chest, stand with back to the shower spray.
  • If showers are not accessible, short baths (limited to ten minutes) may be taken.
  • The incision can be delicately washed (don’t rub) with soap. Do not use lotions or creams on incisions until healing is complete.
  • Avoid extreme cold or hot water temperatures, as they can cause dizziness.
  • Sometimes, a lump or swelling appears at the top of the chest incision, and can take a few months to go away completely.
  • Always keep the incision clean and dry.

The recovery and transitional care period can be a challenging time, and you may be tempted to contact the physician over each and every discomfort or symptom. Following are the symptoms that warrant a call to the physician right away:

  • Increased exhaustion or shortness of breath.
  • Significant oozing, redness, swelling or tenderness at the incision sites.
  • Temperature higher than 101 degrees F on more than one occasion or chills for 24 hours.
  • If the sternum feels like it moves, or it pops or cracks with movement.
  • Abnormal pain or other symptoms not alleviated by medications.

The professional home care team at Continuum can help significantly in the transitional care needs required after heart surgery by providing personal care services, helping around the home and with meals to allow the individual to rest and recuperate, running errands, picking up prescriptions, and so much more. Call us at 314-863-9912, or contact us online to find out more about how we can help in St. Louis, Kirkwood, Clayton, and the nearby areas.