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What Causes Swelling of the Feet After Heart Surgery

written by: angiem1981 • edited by: Diana Cooper • updated: 11/27/2010

Swelling feet after heart surgery often causes concern on behalf of the patient. Although this is a common problem, you should still know the signs and symptoms to look for in case the swelling does indicate something more.

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    Normal Causes of Swollen Feet After Heart Surgery

    Swelling feet after heart surgery is actually pretty common among many patients, depending on the type of surgery. According to the Cardiothoracic Surgery Department at University of Southern California, this is most affluent among those who have actually had a vein removed from the leg during a cardiac procedure. The removal affects the flow return of the blood, leading to swelling of the lower extremities. Even if a vein is not removed, the legs may still swell if incisions were made in the upper leg or groin area. However, it is important to remember that this phenomenon can also occur after any type of surgery related to the heart or any other body part.

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    Should This Be a Cause for Concern?

    In most cases, there is no cause for concern. The physician will often times anticipate this type of swelling and prescribe medications, usually diuretics, following heart surgery. There are a few situations when there may be cause for alarm and you should consult with your health care team immediately though. This includes swelling that does not gradually decrease or that increases drastically, or when other signs and symptoms are associated with the edema of the feet. Fever, changes in skin color and soreness may be signs of more serious conditions. The length of time it takes for swelling to subside will ultimately depend on the individual.

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    How is It Treated?

    There are several different approaches that your physician may take to treat the swelling. While diuretics are one of the first pharmacological approaches that may be taken, there are numerous things that have proven successful that do not require medications. This can include decreasing or eliminating sodium from the diet, propping the feet up when lying or sitting down and moving around to increase circulation of the feet and lower legs. In addition to this, you may be given special hose to wear that can help decrease edema by improving circulation. However, these are not recommended without a physician’s say so first. Avoiding crossing the legs is a prevention measure that may also be emphasized.

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    Other Considerations

    Although swelling feet after heart surgery is common to some patients, you should still closely monitor this condition. This can consist of watching for weight gain in a short period of time, redness, additional swelling and observing the incision site for abnormalities. You should also observe the location of the swelling, especially if it is not localized to the lower extremities. Edema of the legs, feet and other areas of the body can be indicative of other serious disorders, including other diseases or disorders of the heart. Even in the absence of other signs and symptoms, the patient should always consult his or her physician if they have concerns about this.

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    Bibliography

    A Patient’s Guide to Heart Surgery. University of Southern California. Viewed 22, November 2010. http://www.cts.usc.edu/hpg-takingcareofincisionsafterheartsurgery.html

    Heart Surgery Recovery. Cleveland Clinic and the Miller Family Heart and Vascular Institute. 1995-2010. Viewed 22, November 2010. http://my.clevelandclinic.org/heart/disorders/recovery_ohs.aspx