Questions & Answers

The following are the 20 most frequently asked questions concerning cardiovascular surgery.

  1. How long will I be in surgery?
    The length of the operation varies with each patient. It generally takes 4-6 hours from the time you enter the operating room.
  2. How long will I be in the hospital?
    The length of hospitalization varies with each patient, however, for an uncomplicated case, most patients go home in about 4-6 days.
  3. Where will my incisions be?
    The placement of your incisions will depend on the type of surgery you have. Open heart coronary bypass surgery or valve surgery will have an incision in the middle of the chest. Coronary bypass surgery also involves a leg or arm incision as well in order to harvest the vessel to be used as a bypass graft. If you are a candidate for minimally invasive or endoscopic vein harvesting, your incisions will be smaller.
  4. Who will keep my family informed about my condition?
    The cardiovascular coordinator will give your family regular updates during the surgery and will arrange for them to meet with the surgeon after the surgery.
  5. Will I be in a lot of pain?
    Pain response varies with individuals but you will be given pain medications to control your pain.
  6. Do I need the vein they take out of my arm or leg?
    You have many veins in your legs and arms that will take over the function of the vein they remove.
  7. Who will help the surgeon with my operation?
    The surgeon will be assisted by an entire team of highly skilled healthcare professionals that may include another surgeon, an anesthesiologist, a physician assistant, a perfusionist, registered nurses, scrub technicians, and anesthesia technicians.
  8. Which hospital will I be admitted to for my surgery?
    We operate at Sutter Medical Center.
  9. When can I go back to work?
    This will vary greatly from patient to patient, depending on the patient’s physical condition and job requirements. This subject should be discussed with you physician early in your convalescence so you can make proper plans.
  10. When can I resume sexual activities?
    When you are comfortable physically, you can resume sexual activity as desired. Do not be impatient or dissatisfied if your first efforts to return to normal are unsuccessful.
  11. What activities can I do at home?
    You should be up and dressed each morning. You should shower daily (no tub baths) and clean your incision with soap and water. You should walk twice a day for your health. The walk should leave you feeling comfortably tired and not exhausted. By following these suggestions, you will improve your circulation and physical condition. Do not lift more than 5 pounds. Do not do activities that can cause strong pulling or pushing motions such as walking a dog that pulls hard on the leash or playing golf or tennis. Do not mow your lawn or vacuum. Most people can resume driving after their first follow-up visit with their surgeon 2-3 weeks after the operation. You can expect to have swelling in the leg with the incision. This is more prominent after walking or prolonged sitting or standing. Usually elevating your legs above the level of the heart for about 20-30 minutes will help this swelling to resolve.
  12. What medications will I be taking when I get home?
    You will take only the medications your surgeon and cardiologist have prescribed for you on discharge. Do not skip or change your dose without your physician’s advice. Take your pain medication only as needed. You will need less and less pain medication as you recover.
  13. Will I have to make any lifestyle changes after my surgery?
    For many, a coronary artery bypass operation will increase blood flow to the heart muscle. This increased blood flow can reduce or eliminate angina. This operation does not slow the process of atherosclerosis. You can reduce further development of atherosclerosis by changing risk factors that apply to you. With medical supervision, you can reduce the risks of high blood pressure, diabetes, and high blood fats. It is necessary for you to stop smoking, control you weight and diet, reduce stress, and get proper exercise.
  14. Will my new vessels last forever?
    This operation does not cure atherosclerosis, and without lifestyle changes and medical supervision to reduce risk factors, your new bypass can become occluded.
  15. When will I be able to return to normal activity levels?
    Following a period of convalescence, most people are ready to being gradually increasing exercise or physical activity regime with return toward normal activity in 8-12 weeks following discharge from the hospital
  16. Who do I call with questions after I get home?
    Call your physician’s office with any questions.
  17. When should I call my physician?
    You need to call the office if any of the following occur: drainage from your wounds; fever above100 degrees; unusual or increase pain; and if the incision separates or appears more reddened than when you left the hospital.
  18. Is it normal to feel depressed after surgery?
    It is not unusual to experience feelings of depression after a major surgery. If you have questions concerning this, contact your physician.
  19. What is the difference between a cardiologist and a cardiovascular surgeon?
    Cardiologists use medicines and special catheter procedures to dilate the narrowed arteries and better the heart function. For many with coronary artery disease, surgery offers the best opportunity to improve blood flow. Cardiovascular surgeons perform coronary artery bypass surgery, repair and replace diseased heart valves, perform heart transplants, and use special laser procedures to improve blood flow to the heart muscle.
  20. Are there support groups available?
    Sutter Health sponsors or hosts support groups including Mended Hearts and Families with Heart. Please call 800-847-9031 for more information.