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 - Northwestern Memorial Hospital - Chicago

Home Care

When you go home, you will need someone to help with daily chores and meals.

Patients who have had:

  • Minimally invasive surgery (mini-sternotomy incision) usually are back to normal routines in about four weeks. Full recovery takes about six to eight weeks.
  • Full sternotomy or thoracotomy incisions may have a longer recovery time. Many patients' activities are limited for six to eight weeks.

During the first weeks of recovery, it is common to tire easily. Plan your activities to allow for rest periods. Mood swings, not feeling like yourself and sleep problems also are common. These issues will pass with time.

Remember to take things slowly and talk about these feelings with friends and loved ones.

Be sure to take your incentive spirometer home. Continue to use your incentive spirometer and to cough and deep breathe 10 times every hour while awake. Wear your elastic stockings as instructed by your physician.

Weigh yourself daily, at the same time, on the same scale and with the same amount of clothing. Report any weight gain of more than three pounds in one day to your surgeon.


At first your appetite may be poor. Eat small meals with healthy snacks between meals. Foods high in protein will promote healing. Make sure your diet includes fruits and vegetables to help avoid constipation. Follow any guidelines provided by the dietitian or your physician.


Keep active. Follow your physician's advice on resuming activity. Begin with short distances and walk every one to two hours. Slowly increase the distance you walk each day. Do not attempt strenuous exercise until approved by your physician. Forceful movement or pressure can affect the healing of your chest incision and breastbone.

Do not lift:

  • More than 10 pounds for the first six weeks after surgery
  • Anything above your head


If you are able to walk a flight of stairs without becoming short of breath, you can resume intercourse. Avoid positions that put pressure on your upper arms or chest area for six to eight weeks until your breastbone heals. Do not have sex right after eating. You should allow two to three hours to digest your food. Be sure you are well rested.


Do not drive until you talk with your physician. Minimally invasive surgery patients often resume driving after four weeks. For patients who have had a full sternotomy, this could take six to eight weeks as motion from turning the steering wheel can affect the healing breastbone. You should not drive until you are pain-free and are not taking any pain medicine. If your car has air bags, ride in the back seat wearing your seatbelt.


Your surgeon will let you know when you are able to return to work. Your ability to return will depend on your work and its demands. You may discuss this with your physician at your first follow-up exam.

Showering and Wound Care

You may shower. At first you may feel weak when you shower. Avoid long showers with very hot water. It also is helpful to have someone nearby to assist as needed. Stand with your back to the water and allow the water to run over your shoulders. Use a mild soap to gently wash the incision site. Carefully pat dry and do not rub. Keep your incision clean and dry. To prevent infection, do not use powders, colognes or lotions near your incision. Inspect the site daily. Your chest incision will look bruised and may be numb, itchy or sore.

Report any signs of infection to your physician, including:

  • Increased redness, swelling or pain at the site
  • Thick drainage or pus from the incision
  • Fever


For more information regarding heart surgery, please contact the Bluhm Cardiovascular Institute at 1-866-662-8467 or request a first time appointment online.

Last UpdateMarch 16, 2011