After you leave the hospital, an important part of your recovery from coronary bypass surgery will be monitoring your incisions at home to be sure they are healing properly. You will probably have a long incision down the center of your chest. If your coronary bypass surgery was a minimally invasive operation, you may have a smaller incision, or series of incisions, in between your ribs. You may also have a long incision or smaller puncture sites in your leg if saphenous vein was used for the graft.
Before you leave the hospital, you will be given care instructions for your incisions. Be sure to follow these directions carefully, and be particularly alert for any of the signs of complications listed in the instructions. If you suspect complications in the healing of your incisions, contact your care team immediately.
Incision infection can be a serious complication. Read on for some basic guidelines for caring for your incisions. Be sure to follow the instructions provided to you by your own care team.
General Guidance on Taking Care of Your Chest Incision
- Do not bathe in a tub, swim, or use a hot tub for the first few weeks.You may, however, take warm showers (not too hot, not too cold), without allowing the showerhead to spray water directly on your incision. Gently wash your incision daily with a mild soap and water and carefully pat it dry with a towel. You can wash the incision over the tape on your chest. The tape will typically fall off on its own. Follow your physician’s guidance on how you should clean your incision and when it is safe to bathe or swim.
- Do not apply any lotions, oils, or powders to your incision unless instructed to do so by your healthcare provider.
- Be careful to avoid any movements that can pull on your breastbone, which is still healing. Until your physician approves you for more movement, do not lift anything that is more than a few pounds and be sure that you do not reach backward or push or pull with your arms.
- Be aware that it is normal to feel numbness, itching, or tingling of your incision while it heals.
- You may be able to minimize the long-term appearance of your scar by using a silicone gel or sheet, but do so only as recommended by your healthcare provider.
- Consult with your physician about when it is safe to apply sunblock to your scar to protect it from sun exposure. Other options for minimizing the appearance of your scar include make-up (some types are designed specifically to camouflage scars), and – in cases of overgrowth of the scar tissue (keloids) – procedures performed by a plastic surgeon may be of help.
- Monitor for symptoms of infection in the chest incision, such as fever, rapid heart rate, worsening incision pain, or bleeding from the wound. Your care team will provide you with information about what symptoms may indicate a complication. Contact your doctor right away if any of these symptoms occur.
Taking Care of Your Leg Incision (if applicable)
- Gently wash your incision each day with mild soap and water. Pat the incision dry with a towel.
- Your doctor may recommend that you wear compression stockings during the day to reduce swelling in your leg and to help prevent blood from pooling and forming clots.
- Keep your legs elevated to also help reduce swelling.
- If you also have diabetes, be sure to manage your condition very carefully to promote good wound healing.
- Monitor your incision for signs of infection, such as worsening incision pain, heat, or discharge.