Heart surgery

Open heart surgery: how to prepare

Open-heart surgery involves opening the chest with a large incision to expose the heart. It is a long-standing and widely used surgical treatment for heart failure, heart attack, coronary artery disease, heart transplant and atrial fibrillation (irregular and rapid heartbeat).

While some heart surgeries can be performed minimally invasively by accessing the heart through small incisions and a camera on the left side of the ribs, this is not the case with open heart surgery. Instead, a surgeon cuts your breastbone (breastbone) and rib cage with open-heart surgery to gain full access to your heart.

Then the surgical team places your heart on a cardiopulmonary (heart-lung) bypass machine while they correct the problems. This machine gives your body blood and oxygen while your heart is stopped for the procedure.

Stopping your heart for surgery may sound scary, but the procedure is very common. More than one million heart surgeries worldwide have used coronary artery bypass surgery each year.

This article explains what to expect if you need open heart surgery and how to prepare for the procedure.

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A cardiothoracic surgeon (heart and lung specialist) performs open-heart surgeries. Surgeons use general anesthesia, which means you are completely asleep during the procedure.

Open-heart surgeries are performed in a specialized operating room in a hospital. After surgery, you recover in a Cardiac Care Unit (CCU), an Intensive Care Unit (ICU) devoted explicitly to cardiac care.

Additionally, the operating room has a range of specialized equipment to facilitate the procedure and keep you stable during treatment. Typically, this includes:

  • An intravenous (IV) catheter to administer medications and fluids
  • chest tubes to drain fluid from the lungs
  • Foley catheter for draining urine
  • Ventilator to administer oxygen during the operation
  • Heart monitor to monitor heart rate and rhythm

to sum up

Cardiothoracic surgeons perform open heart surgery in a hospital operating room. You receive general anesthesia for this major surgery, which means you will be asleep during the procedure. People usually spend some time recovering in intensive care after open-heart surgery.

what to wear

Since you will be under general anesthesia, you will need to change into the hospital dressing gown when you arrive.

Open heart surgery is an inpatient procedure, which means you will stay in the hospital afterwards. Therefore, you will also want to bring pajamas or loungewear and a change of clothes to go home. It’s generally a good idea to opt for loose, comfortable clothing.

Additionally, your hospital may ask you to remove your jewelry, makeup, nail polish, deodorant, piercings, glasses, and contact lenses. These specifics vary by location, so check with your surgeon if you have any questions. Someone in your surgeon’s office will review your surgeon’s preferences and hospital policies about what to wear and bring.

Food and drink

As with other surgeries, you will need to change what you eat and drink before open heart surgery. Your surgical team will tell you when to stop eating and drinking, often at some point the night before.

They will also tell you what you can and cannot eat before surgery. This means having no snacks or water after the cut off time. It is essential to follow these instructions precisely so that food and drink do not interfere with the anesthesia.


Some medications can interfere with those used during surgery. Therefore, your surgical team will review your medication list prior to surgery.

Tell your team about all medications you take, including prescription and over-the-counter medications, recreational drugs, supplements, and herbs.

If you are taking medications that affect blood clotting, such as blood thinners, aspirin, and other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), as well as certain herbs and supplements, your doctor may ask you to stop taking them. take for some time before surgery to reduce the risk of bleeding.

Before surgery, your surgical team may administer antibiotics to reduce the risk of infection. Also, if you feel anxious, talk to the anesthetist (analgesic specialist). They can give you something to help you relax until you are given a general anesthetic to fall asleep.

What to bring

On the day of your surgery, you will want to bring documentation, medications, and necessary things to keep you comfortable throughout your stay.

Some things to pack for your hospital stay include:

  • Your insurance card and your identity document
  • A complete list of all medications you are taking, including dosages
  • Medicines you are currently taking preferably in their original bottle
  • Comfortable clothes, such as pajamas, bathrobe, socks, underwear, and something to wear around the house
  • Glasses, if you wear them
  • Toiletries, such as toothbrush, toothpaste, deodorant, hairbrush, soap, shampoo
  • Electronic devices, such as cell phones, laptops, tablets, and chargers
  • Books
  • eye mask for sleeping

Typically, people stay in the hospital for about three to five days after being transferred from the ICU to a regular hospital room. So when thinking about what to pack, think of things that comfort you, help you pass the time, and allow you to connect with people during your stay.

Preoperative Lifestyle Changes

To help promote positive outcomes after open heart surgery, your healthcare provider will also advise you on healthy choices you can make before surgery. The following steps can help make any operation safer and a recovery smoother.

  • Get enough exercise
  • Get enough sleep
  • Eat nutritious foods
  • Stop smoking

Also, if you become ill before surgery, your procedure may need to be postponed. So take extra precautions to avoid exposing yourself to the disease. If you become ill in the time leading up to your surgery, let your health care provider know as soon as possible.


Open heart surgery is an umbrella term for various heart surgeries that involve opening the chest to access the heart and correct problems. A cardiothoracic surgeon performs open-heart surgery under general anesthesia in a hospital operating room.

The procedure is hospital-based, which means you will spend the night. You will spend the first nights of recovery in intensive care, then you will move to a regular room.

A word from Verywell

It’s normal to feel anxious about open-heart surgery. However, being prepared for what to expect helps many people feel more comfortable.

Talk to your surgeon about your concerns and questions. They can help you understand what to do before surgery to make the experience safe and comfortable. Also, telling them about your anxiety can ensure that you receive adequate preoperative medication to help you relax.