Recovery - Coronary artery bypass graft

You'll usually need to stay in hospital for around 7 days after having a coronary artery bypass graft (CABG) so medical staff can closely monitor your recovery.

During this time, you may be attached to various tubes, drips and drains that provide you with fluids, and allow blood and urine to drain away. These will be removed as you get better.

It's likely you'll feel some discomfort and grogginess after the procedure, but you'll be given painkillers to help relieve any pain.

Tell your doctor or nurse if the pain increases or you notice any excessive bleeding.

Recovering from a coronary artery bypass graft procedure takes time and everyone recovers at slightly different speeds.

Generally, you should be able to sit in a chair after 1 day, walk after 3 days, and walk up and down stairs after 5 or 6 days.

Most people make a full recovery within 12 weeks of the operation.

But if you experience complications during or after surgery, your recovery time is likely to be longer.

You should have a follow-up appointment, typically about 6 to 8 weeks after your operation.

At home

To ease any soreness where the cuts were made, you may need to continue taking painkillers at home for a few weeks. 

Wearing loose, comfortable clothing that doesn't rub on your wounds can also help.

For the first 3 to 6 weeks, you'll probably feel tired a lot of the time. This is because your body is using a lot of energy to heal itself.

By 6 weeks, you should be able to do most of your normal activities and by 3 months you're likely to be fully recovered.

Caring for your wound

The metal wires holding your breastbone (sternum) together are permanent.

But the stitches closing your skin will gradually dissolve over the weeks following surgery as your skin heals.

While you're recovering in hospital, you'll be told about how to care for your wounds at home.

It's important to keep the wounds clean and protect them from the sun while they're healing.

You'll have a scar where the surgeon cut down your chest, as well as where the grafted blood vessel (or vessels) was taken from.

These will be red at first, but will gradually fade over time.

Activities

The team caring for you in hospital will also usually be able to advise you about any activities you need to avoid as you recover.

Generally, in the first few days after you return home from hospital you can do light activities, such as:

  • walking short distances
  • cooking
  • playing card and board games
  • lifting light objects

After about 6 weeks, you may be well enough to do slightly more strenuous activities, such as:

  • driving
  • carrying children
  • carrying heavier objects (but not very heavy objects, such as bags of compost or cement)
  • vacuuming
  • mowing the lawn
  • having sex

The length of time you need off work varies from person to person.

If you're recovering well and your job isn't physically strenuous, you can usually go back to work in about 6 to 8 weeks.

But you'll normally need more time off if you experience any complications or your job involves a lot of standing and lifting.

While recovering, it's best to try to build up your activities gradually over time and make sure you take regular rests when you feel tired.

Side effects of surgery

After you have been discharged from hospital, you may experience some side effects as a result of the operation.

These can include:

It's natural to feel a bit low after having bypass surgery. You'll experience good and bad days. Your recovery will take weeks, rather than days.

Side effects tend to disappear within 4 to 6 weeks of the operation.

A full recovery may take about 3 months or longer, depending on your fitness, age and the severity of your condition.

If you'd like some extra support and advice while you recover, speak with your GP or contact the British Heart Foundation, who can provide you with details of local heart support groups.

When to seek medical advice

Call 999 if you:

  • have chest pain
  • have extreme shortness of breath
  • have palpitations that make you feel dizzy or faint
  • feel extremely unwell

Follow any advice that you have been given on discharge from hospital.

See a GP if you have:

  • worsening pain in or around the wound
  • redness and swelling around the wound
  • pus or blood coming from the wound
  • a very high temperature or you feel hot and shivery

Call NHS 111 or contact your local out-of-hours service if you're unable to contact your GP.

Cardiac rehabilitation

Many hospitals offer a cardiac rehabilitation programme for people who have had heart surgery.

The programme, which usually lasts at least 6 weeks, aims to help you recover from the procedure and get back to everyday life as quickly as possible.

A member of the cardiac rehabilitation team may speak to you about this when you go into hospital to have your operation.

You may be invited to join a cardiac rehabilitation programme starting a few weeks after you leave hospital.

Cardiac rehabilitation programmes vary widely throughout the country, but most will cover areas such as exercise, education, relaxation and emotional support.

The British Heart Foundation has more information about cardiac rehabilitation.

Life after a coronary artery bypass graft

When you have fully recovered from your operation, it's important to adopt a healthy lifestyle to reduce your risk of developing further heart problems in the future.

For example, you should:

You should also continue to take any medications you have been prescribed.

Page last reviewed: 07/11/2018
Next review due: 07/11/2021