CABG Aftercare: What to Expect

Posted by Heart Hugger on Aug 10, 2022 9:56:38 AM

elderly woman in wheelchair with nurses

Like any serious operation, coronary artery bypass graft (CABG) surgery has an intricate aftercare journey.  The recovery process can take weeks--but if you know what to expect and how to care for yourself, it's much easier to prevent complications, improve comfort, and even heal more quickly. 

The more you know about the recovery process, the more prepared you'll be to follow your doctor's directions and reduce your risk of serious complications.

Here's a look at what to expect from CABG aftercare and how you can take an active part in your healing journey.

WHAT IS Coronary artery disease (CAD)?

Coronary artery disease, or CAD, is the most common type of heart disease in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). It occurs when plaque, made up of fat, cholesterol, calcium, and other substances, builds up inside the coronary arteries.

This buildup, known as atherosclerosis, narrows the arteries and reduces blood flow to the heart muscle. Over time, reduced blood flow can cause chest pain (angina), shortness of breath, and other symptoms. If blood flow is completely blocked, it can lead to a heart attack.


The most common treatment for severe CAD is coronary artery bypass grafting (CABG) surgery. In CABG, a healthy artery or vein from elsewhere in the body is connected to bypass the blocked coronary artery, improving blood flow to the heart. Along with surgery, treatments for CAD include lifestyle changes, medicines, and medical procedures such as stenting.

While CAD is common, the CDC notes that it can often be prevented or managed through risk factor modification.


After grafting new blood vessels to bypass blocked arteries, the coronary artery bypass surgery is nearly complete. The surgeon will use wire sutures to close up the breastbone, and these wires typically stay in place permanently. Drainage tubes are inserted to remove excess fluid from the chest cavity, and the incision site is stitched up and bandaged.

Immediately after surgery, the patient is moved to the intensive care unit (ICU) to begin the recovery process under close supervision. Here, the medical team focuses on:

  • Having the patient take deep breaths and cough to keep the lungs clear
  • Gradually increasing physical activity as tolerated
  • Monitoring the incision site for signs of bleeding
  • Managing pain and other post-surgical symptoms

Once stable, the patient transitions out of the ICU to continue recovering in a standard hospital room. During this time, the care team provides instruction on post-discharge care to help prevent complications and promote healing. This includes guidelines on wound care, activity, diet, medications, and more. Thorough patient education ensures a smoother recovery after this major operation.

While CABG surgery is highly invasive, it can dramatically improve blood flow to the heart muscle. With dedication to the rehabilitation process, patients can get back to enjoying life after surviving a diseased coronary artery.

CABG Aftercare in the Hospital

Before you even start to think about CABG surgery recovery, you should understand what happens during the procedure and how it impacts you both physically and emotionally.

Once the procedure is complete, CABG aftercare begins in the ICU. That's because the ICU is specially equipped to handle patient needs after a large operation like CABG surgery.

You might remain under anesthesia for up to four hours after your surgery. During this time, you'll be connected to a ventilator--a machine that does your breathing for you. This is achieved through the use of a breathing tube.

Your doctors and nurses will monitor several things during this time.

Your vital signs

Vital signs like your pulse help medical experts keep an eye on your overall health and recovery.

Your stomach

Anesthesia sometimes causes nausea, so you'll have a tube to help settle your stomach and prevent bloating. This tube is inserted through your nose.

Your chest

After surgery, the incision site may drain fluid. You'll have a chest tube inserted to drain this fluid from the chest cavity.

When you wake up, medical experts will continue to monitor you for a while. When you're stable, you'll be moved to a regular hospital room for up to 12 days depending on your needs.

For the rest of your stay, you'll work with doctors and nurses to manage your CABG aftercare needs.

This can include:

  • Gradually returning to solid foods.
  • Performing breathing and coughing exercises.
  • Walking two to three times per day.
  • Drinking the right amount of liquid.
  • Learning about potential complications.

CABG Aftercare at Home

After your hospital stay, you'll be sent home with a discharge plan. This plan helps you understand what to expect, what you can and can't do, and how you can help make your recovery process more comfortable.

Below are a few things to know about at-home CABG aftercare:


Your doctor will provide detailed instructions about recovering after CABG surgery, caring for your incisions, and more. It is important to listen closely and ask any questions you may have. This will help you feel confident in meeting your care needs once you are discharged home.

If any issues or concerns come up after you leave the hospital, do not hesitate to contact your doctor for guidance. Being proactive and speaking up will help ensure you heal properly in the post-surgery period.

You'll have several different medications

Your doctors and nurses will give you a lot of information about medications and how often to take them. You'll likely take things like:

  • Aspirin, to prevent blood clots.
  • ACE inhibitors to treat high blood pressure.
  • Nitrates to help manage pain.
  • Digestive aids to minimize the risk of constipation.

You will need to monitor your wounds

Remember, CABG surgery involves more than one incision or wound. As such, you'll need to monitor your chest area as well as your wrist or leg (depending on where your doctor took the new artery from). You'll have specific instructions about what to look for, like increased swelling, and you'll clean your wound sites regularly.


Sternum support devices make it easier for you to breathe, cough, and move around during CABG surgery recovery. They improve your comfort levels so you can stick to your doctor's recommendations and perform these key activities, helping speed up the healing process and limit the risk of complications.


Your body will give you indications when something is not right in your recovery process. Be on the lookout for concerning signs that it's time to call your doctor, including chest pain, shortness of breath, pus draining from the surgical wound, leg swelling, numbness in the limbs, rapid pulse, or high temperature.

Catching these warning signs early allows you to get ahead of any potential complications and get your healing after coronary artery bypass grafting surgery back on track as soon as possible. Don't hesitate to contact your doctor if your body is telling you that something is off.


It's important to build good dietary habits after CABG surgery. That's especially true in the first few weeks of your recovery, when you may have a reduced appetite; it's important to keep eating so you keep your strength up. However, remember to follow your doctor's recommendations for a healthy diet, and always drink plenty of water.


Although your doctor will recommend certain activities for you to do as you get stronger, remember that you need to give yourself plenty of time to rest. Your body is using a lot of energy to heal, so you'll need to take it slow for several weeks.

You may have a cardiac rehabilitation program to follow

A cardiac rehabilitation program helps you simplify your recovery journey and manage your emotional state. You'll work on recovery exercises, stress management techniques, individual or group therapy, and more.

Long-term recovery requires a changed lifestyle

CABG surgery is a major operation and the recovery process takes time and dedication. The good news is you can manage your own healing by understanding potential complications and following your doctor's recommendations for prevention. Remember, tools like a sternum support vest can aid your rehabilitation.

Although CABG enables you to fully recover, your lifestyle will likely change afterward. Your doctors may advise adjusting your diet, exercise, and other habits to address the heart disease risk factors. There is a lot involved with CABG aftercare, both in the hospital and once home. But being informed about what to expect allows you to take an active role in your recovery journey.

Are you undergoing CABG surgery? Ask your doctor if Heart Hugger is right for your cardiac rehabilitation and CABG aftercare journey. Contact us today to learn more.

Heart Hugger

Written by Heart Hugger

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