Five Ways to Speed Recovery From Bypass Surgery, from the December 2012 Harvard Heart Letter

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Five strategies can pave the way to a smooth recovery after bypass surgery: staying as active as possible before surgery, quitting smoking, eating a healthy diet full of protein, staying positive, and taking heart medicines as prescribed.

Cover of the December 2012 Harvard Heart Letter

As a type of open-heart surgery, coronary artery bypass grafting is a big operation. Although it's a remarkably safe procedure, recovery can be difficult. In the December 2012 Harvard Heart Letter, a Harvard-affiliated cardiac surgeon and cardiac intensivist offer five tips for recovering as quickly as possible.

Bypass surgery is done to restore blood flow to the heart muscle when coronary arteries become narrowed or blocked by cholesterol-filled plaque. Each year, more than 400,000 Americans undergo this operation.
Five key factors affect recovery, according to Dr. R. Morton Bolman III, the chief of cardiac surgery at Brigham and Women's Hospital, and Dr. James Rawn, a cardiac intensivist at the Brigham:
Stay active before surgery. Some level of physical fitness helps counteract the immobility of recovery.

Quit smoking. Not smoking before and after the operation reduces the odds of developing pneumonia or other complication.

Don't diet. When the body is under stress, it tends to break down muscle. Healing requires calories, especially from protein. Long-term changes in diet may be needed later, but a healthful diet helps recovery.
Keep a positive attitude. Some people become depressed after bypass surgery. A positive attitude can influence how quickly you become active again.

Take medications as prescribed. Bypass surgery may restore blood flow to the heart muscle, but the disease that caused the blockage is still there. Taking medications as prescribed helps avoid the need for another bypass surgery down the road.

Read the full-length article: "Recovering from coronary bypass surgery"

Also in the December 2012 Harvard Heart Letter:

  •     Fixing mitral valves without open-heart surgery
  •     Stem cell therapy holds promise for repairing damaged hearts.
  •     Drinking green tea may lower heart disease risk
  •     Bypass surgery is safer than angioplasty in people with kidney disease

The Harvard Heart Letter is available from Harvard Health Publications, the publishing division of Harvard Medical School, for $20 per year. Subscribe at or by calling 877-649-9457 (toll-free).

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Natalie Ramm
Harvard Health Publications
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