Getting Started with Heart Surgery
In the weeks, days and hours before your heart surgery, there are several important steps for you to take to ensure that everything on the day of surgery runs smoothly and you are as healthy as possible. Tell your doctors about any changes in your health that you notice before surgery. If you smoke, you should stop at least 2 weeks before your surgery. Smoking before surgery can cause blood clotting and breathing problems.
Your cardiologist and medical care team will request that you carefully follow guidelines on how you can best prepare. Planning and preparing will lower your stress and put you on the road to a faster recovery.
Getting Cleared for Heart Surgery
Your primary care doctor or cardiologist will do a complete history and physical examination to make sure that you are healthy and cleared for surgery. "Cleared for surgery" means that it is safe for you to have surgery. This process is known as your preoperative medical clearance. You can choose to have your pre-operative examination done at our facility or with your own physician. Items that will clear you for heart surgery include:
- Blood tests, including type and screen (the type and screen blood test MUST be done at Cedars-Sinai and is used to make sure that safe and matching blood will be ready if you need a blood transfusion)
- Urine sample test
- Chest X-ray
- Electrocardiogram (EKG) to check for heart problems
- Nasal swab to test for bacterial infection
- If a valve or aneurysm patient, a letter from your dentist stating your mouth has been examined and you have no signs of infection
Remember to take your Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) forms to your preoperative (before surgery) medical clearance appointments.
Things to Do Before Your Surgery
Consider an Advance Healthcare Directive
An Advance Healthcare Directive is a legal form that lets you pick another person to make healthcare choices for you if there's ever a time when you can't speak for yourself. If you do not have an advance directive form, ask your doctor for one before your surgery. Learn more about healthcare directives here.
Discuss Your Medications With Your Doctor
If you are taking any of the below types of medication, ask your surgeon whether you should change or stop taking them before your surgery:
- Blood-thinning medications
- Beta blockers
- Pain medications—including prescription (the kind that needs a doctor's order) and over-the-counter (the kind you can buy in a drugstore) medications
Get Your Home Ready
If you do not have them already, buy:
- A thermometer
- A scale for weighing yourself
- A machine to take your blood pressure
Put a small pillow in the car. You will use it to protect your chest by putting it between your seatbelt and your chest.
Change Your Habits
Buy heart-healthy foods that are low in salt, saturated fats and sugar. Low-sugar foods are very important for you to eat if you have diabetes. You should also eat foods that have a lot of fiber, to help keep you from getting constipated.
Refrain from drinking alcohol in the lead up to your heart surgery. If you smoke, it is very important to stop at least 2 weeks before your surgery. Talk to your doctor about quitting smoking or look into the Cedars-Sinai Smoking Cessation Program.
Plan Your Support
It is important that you have someone drive you to and from the hospital for your surgery, and for any follow-up doctor visits. You will not be able to drive for 4 to 6 weeks, depending on the type of surgery you have, and will need to get your doctor's permission before you start driving again. If you live alone, it is important that a family member or friend stays with you for the first week. This person will help you with showering, making meals and taking medications. If needed, we can help you find a home care provider for the first week.
In addition, it's important to decide who your emergency contacts will be, and to share the most updated contact information and names of these people with our staff. You should also talk with your loved ones and make a list of the visitors you will want after the surgery.
Set Up Your HealthLoop Account
To connect with you and help you with your care before, during and after your heart surgery, we use an online tool called HealthLoop. After your surgery has been scheduled, we will send you an email asking you to activate your HealthLoop account, which you can use from any computer, smartphone or tablet. HealthLoop will ask you questions about your care and remind you about your treatment plan. Our healthcare team will then be able to follow your progress and help you stay on track to recovery. Make sure to remind your doctor's office about your HealthLoop account, if you do not get an email from us after your surgery has been scheduled.
Frequently Asked Questions
Most people remain admitted in the hospital for about 1 week after surgery. Here is a list of things to bring with you to make sure that your post-surgery hospital stay is as comfortable as possible:
- Toiletries (toothbrush, toothpaste, denture cleanser/cup, hair brush or comb)
- Eyeglasses or contact lenses
- Hearing aid(s)
- Comfortable clothing that is easy to put on when you go home (loose waistband on pants, shirts that button or snap, shoes that you don't need to tie or buckle)
- Health insurance card
- Pharmacy prescription card
- Photo ID
Do NOT bring any valuables with you such as jewelry or cash.
You will also need to bring your medication list with you on the day of your surgery. You will talk about your medications with your anesthesiologist and the nurses who will be taking care of you. Make sure that all medications are on your list, including:
- Prescriptions (medicines your doctor orders)
- Over-the-counter medications (the kind you buy at a drugstore)
- Pain medications
- Health supplements (vitamins and minerals)
- Herbal medicines (for example, Chinese herbs)
It is important for your healthcare team to know ALL the medications you take so they can keep you as safe as possible.
Call your surgeon's office right away if you get sick before surgery, even if you don't think that you are very sick. Should you get sick in the 10 days before your surgery, tell your surgeon if you have any of these:
- Tooth abscess (infection)
- Herpes outbreak
- Skin rash
- Any type of "flare up"
If you think that you are pregnant, call your surgeon right away.
Call your surgery scheduler if you have any questions. Do not call your surgeon or physician assistant.