If your doctor has confirmed that you’ll be undergoing open heart surgery, you may feel a sudden sweep of emotions.

It’s not uncommon to feel uncertainty about how to prepare for this procedure that, according to the National Institutes of Health, generally lasts between four and six hours.

Open heart surgery is characterized as any type of surgery that requires the opening of the chest in order to perform an operation on the muscles, valves or arteries of the heart. Though there are a variety of reasons as to why you may need open heart surgery, the most common type of heart surgery is coronary artery bypass grafting (CABG). This procedure helps improve blood flow to the heart. CABG is used to treat people with severe coronary heart disease.

No matter what the reasoning is for your surgery, once you’ve been scheduled for your procedure, it’s extremely important to understand what lies ahead.

If you’re facing an upcoming open heart surgery, take note of the following to help prepare for your procedure:

  • Keep your primary care physician informed of any medications that you‘re taking. These include herbs, over-the-counter medications and vitamins, as well as your prescription medicines.
  • Make note of any recent illnesses such as the cold, fever or the flu.
  • Though you can’t undo the effects of bad eating habits, recovery begins once you’re diagnosed with a heart condition. Starting a heart-healthy diet can help prepare you for a healthy life after surgery.
  • Two weeks prior to surgery, your doctor will encourage you to quit smoking and stop using blood-thinning medications such as aspirin, ibuprofen and naproxen.
  • The day before your procedure, you’ll be asked to wash with a special soap. This soap kills the bacteria on your skin in an effort to lessen the chance of developing an infection post-surgery.
  • Due to the effects that anesthesia has on the stomach, you’ll be advised to refrain from eating or drinking (water included) after midnight the night before your procedure.
  • On the day of your surgery, you will go through a number of tests, such as an electrocardiogram (EKG), chest x-ray and bloodwork. Additionally, you’ll be given medication that will aid in relaxation.
  • Once in the operating room, you’ll receive sleep-inducing drugs that will be effective for the duration of the surgery.

These are just a few examples of what to expect when preparing for open heart surgery; be sure contact your primary care physician if you’d like to learn more or have any questions or concerns.

Stay tuned in the coming weeks as we discuss the recovery period after open heart surgery.

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