Returning to Work After Open Heart Surgery: A Patient's Guide

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The Return to Work

Returning to work after open heart surgery can be a daunting prospect for the open heart surgery patient. With careful compliance to doctor’s orders it can be a little less stressful.

In general terms, a patient may be allowed to return to work six to eight weeks after open heart surgery. In some cases, the return to work may be gradual, with the patient working limited hours at first and then working up to a full-time schedule.

Activity at Work

The specifics will depend upon the patient’s progress and the type of work involved, but in general, for the first two months following surgery limits will be placed upon various activities performed by the patient. These limits may carry over into the work place and may remain intact or decrease over time. The goal is for the patient to be able to return to as much normal activity as possible over time.

For the first two months, standing in one place for 15 minutes or more is not recommended. The patient will need to be able to walk around as necessary and to sit or rest during the work day.

Lifting is limited to weights under 10 pounds (in some cases, 20 pounds). Ten pounds is the equivalent of about two reams of paper (two 500-ct packs of printer/copier paper).

Heavy objects are likewise not to be pushed or pulled. It is important for the patient to ask for help and to allow others to give help during the recovery period.

Stairs can be climbed, but only in moderation. Repeated trips up and down the stairs in one day are discouraged. This can require careful planning if the patient is faced with stairs at work and at home.

It is important for the patient to be able to rest and pace himself or herself during the work day. Work activities may need to be carefully planned and scheduled to allow the patient to do this.

Driving may be prohibited for the first two months following surgery. This can require the patient to make other arrangements such as the use of public transportation, carpooling or getting rides from a friend or caregiver.


Getting a good night’s sleep is important for a productive workday. It is common for heart surgery patients to experience difficulty sleeping for the first few months afterwards. Balancing rest with activity can help, as can avoiding caffeine in the evening, listening to relaxing music in the evening and getting into a consistent routine for bedtime.

Emotions and Stress

Emotions and stress can affect work function and productivity. It is normal for a heart surgery patient to experience feelings of sadness or depression in the first few weeks following surgery. If they do not go away after that time, the physician should be consulted.

Returning to work after open heart surgery can bring on its own set of mixed emotions and feelings of stress. It is important for the patient to talk about his or her feelings and to continue, as much as possible, normal daily activities including socializing and hobbies.


Life After Open Heart Surgery: FAQs. Mid-Atlantic Surgical Associates.

Heart Surgery Recovery. Cleveland Clinic: Miller Family Heart & vascular Institute.

Recovery from Heart Surgery. WebMD. Reviewed by Robert J. Bryng, MD. March 7, 2009.