Open-heart surgery is a common procedure, performed on around 500,000 patients each year. The surgery allows physicians to address and repair complicated heart concerns such as coronary artery bypass and the more complex aortic and cardiac procedures.

Patient Perspective: Preparing for Open-Heart Surgery

If you’re scheduled for heart surgery, it’s important to prepare accordingly—physically and mentally. In the event of a coronary artery bypass, your surgeon will take a healthy artery or vein from your body—typically your leg—and graft it to your heart to restore the blood supply past your blocked coronary artery.

The survival and recovery rate for such procedures is promising. According to a study published by the National Institute of Health, the cumulative 10, 20-, and 30-year survival rates were 77%, 40%, and 15%, respectively. Often, the surgery is a patient’s best option for improved cardiac performance and quality of life.

Preparing for Open-Heart Surgery

You’ll want to arrive at the operating table with the best chances of a positive outcome. Your physician will give you the best advice about lifestyle changes you should make during the period before surgery.

The following steps can make your operation safer and your recovery smoother.

  1. Stop Smoking

Continued smoking increases the danger of stroke, another heart attack, or unresponsiveness to medical treatment. Smoking prohibits you from wearing a ventilator, should the need arise, and can also cause respiratory failure and pneumonia.

  1. Focus on Proper Nutrition

Embracing a balanced and healthy diet can improve your surgical outcome and contribute to a shorter recovery time. Understanding the nutritional and healing qualities of whole foods in place of empty calories is: There’s loads of great advice on what to eat before surgery. Changing your eating habits from empty calories, high-fat junk food to a more sensible eating routine will improve your surgical outcomes and speed up your recovery time.

  1. Avoid Illness with Preventative Measures

Remove yourself from high-risk exposure to common viruses that could impede a successful surgery. Inform your doctor of any illnesses you experienced up to the time of surgery. In some instances, surgery may be postponed to ensure you are in the best health for positive outcomes. Get your influenza and Covid-19 vaccinations, and follow the CDC guidelines regarding masks, crowds, and indoor activities.

The Night Before Surgery

Prior to surgery, your medical provider will issue strict guidelines to follow in preparation. Often, there are dietary and fluid restrictions in the hours or even days leading up to surgery. Ensure you understand what medications you should and should not take before your procedure.

The Day of Surgery

On the day of your procedure, you’ll want to arrive at the designated check-in time with all items requested by your medical provider. The list may include the following:

  • Your insurance and personal identification information—driver’s license, Medicare ID card, etc.
  • A power of attorney or health proxy designating a trusted person to make important medical decisions if you cannot. That person should be the one who can be a point of contact or spokesperson for you at the hospital.
  • Personal and sanitary items—include toiletry items, your comfortable robe, and slippers. Arrange for someone to bring these items after you leave the recovery room.
  • Storage cases for dentures, glasses, contact lenses, etc.
  • Medications prescribed for you and approved by your surgical team. (See next section.)

About your Medications

Prior to your procedure, your surgical team will ask for a list of all medications you are currently taking. Include any supplements and herbs you are using. Pay close attention to the ingredients and potential interactions with drugs that could be used during your surgery. The following pharmaceuticals may be of concern to your doctor:

  • Blood thinners—Antiplatelet medications and enteric-coated aspirin thin the blood and inhibit clotting. These blood thinners require the surgeon to find a balance between preventing clots or allowing you to bleed too much.
  • Opioid pain medications—Because of the effect of pain medicines on your heart, be sure to tell your doctor if you’re taking medications like Percocet, Vicodin, and Oxycontin, including many other opioid-based medications.
  • Beta-blockers—These drugs lower blood pressure by reducing the contraction of the heart muscle and stress on the vascular system.
  • Supplements and herbs—These can be problematic and include Vitamin E, St. John’s wort, feverfew, garlic, ginseng, ginger, omega-e, fish oil, and turmeric. They can cause a bad reaction with anesthesia medication or cause excessive bleeding during surgery.

Proper Attire

Bring along a change of clothes, preferably loose-fitting, comfortable garments, and check with your surgical team to ensure what fragrances, accessories, and grooming products are allowed.

The following items are commonly discouraged:

  • Body Lotion
  • Body piercing
  • Contact lenses
  • Deodorant
  • Hair products
  • Jewelry
  • Makeup
  • Nail polish
  • Prosthetic devices
  • Watches

The success of your procedure is often directly impacted by your adherence to your doctor’s instructions in the days leading up to surgery. Renowned cardiothoracic surgeon, Lindita Coku, MD, encourages her patients to follow surgery prep guidelines to the letter. “Our guidelines for patients, pre-surgery, are developed to support best outcomes for patients,” says Dr. Coku. “When patients and physicians work together, we are more likely to experience a successful surgery and positive post-surgical results.”

Understanding how improved health choices can expedite recovery and reduce the risk of complication is vital. Ensure you have a support system in place for your convalescence, and come to your pre-surgical consult with your questions ready. Surgery is a collaborative practice in improving health, and the best outcomes arise when doctor, patient, and support figures work as a team