Heart Bypass Surgery: How To Prepare

In the weeks before your scheduled heart bypass surgery—which is also called coronary artery bypass graft (CABG)—you will be instructed by your surgeon on how to prepare. It’s important to keep in mind that a heart bypass procedure is considered a type of open-heart surgery and the recovery period can be extensive. However, there are many things you can do in advance to prepare for surgery, which will lower the risk of complications during and after your procedure. For example, you may want to:

  • Make arrangements in advance to have someone pick you up from the hospital: This person could also help you during the first week after you're discharged. Many people are physically too weak to do some things around the house for up to 8 weeks after surgery.
  • Pay your bills in advance: This will leave you with one less thing to worry about after you go home.
  • Incorporate healthy lifestyle changes: These include things like quitting smoking and/or drinking, eating a healthy diet, and exercising. These changes may be a real game changer when it comes to how fast you will recover after heart bypass surgery.

The goal is to do as much preparation as you can in advance, so that your transition will be smoother, and your recovery period will be shorter after surgery.

Arriving at hospital for heart bypass surgery

FG Trade/Getty Image

Location

A heart bypass procedure is considered the most common types of open-heart procedures.  Because of the potential for serious complications, open heart surgery is always performed on an inpatient basis. You should be prepared to be admitted to the hospital when you arrive on the day of your surgery. Once you have been prepared for surgery, you will be moved to the operating room, and after your heart bypass procedure is done, you’ll be transported to the ICU (intensive care unit) or CICU (coronary intensive care unit) for close observation. Once you are stable and your surgeon gives the okay, you’ll be moved to a regular hospital room. Most often, a hospital room is considered semi-private with 2 hospital beds in each room, unless you request a private room in advance.

What to Wear

When preparing for your hospital stay, you’ll want to pack comfortable, loose fitting clothing to wear to and from the hospital. After surgery, you may have discomfort from your incision site, and your muscles may ache from tensing up (due to anxiety or pain), as well as from being immobile. Wearing loose fitting clothing, made of material, such as soft cotton, can reduce rubbing and friction and lower the amount of added skin irritation. Although you will receive a hospital gown during your admission process, you may want to change out of the hospital attire once you are admitted to a regular hospital room. Bring some type of comfortable foot covering as well, such as soft socks and rubber backed slip on shoes or slippers.

Food and Drink

Your surgeon and/or other members of your healthcare team will advise you on any dietary restrictions before your surgery. Usually, there is a restriction involving nothing by mouth—including food, drinks or even water—from midnight the night before surgery until after you wake up in the recovery room. This is to prevent nausea and vomiting, which can occur as a reaction to the anesthesia.

Medications

Your healthcare team will advise you on which medications to withhold and which ones to take before your surgery. In some instances, the surgeon will ask that you quit taking medications in advance, like blood thinners or any other drugs that could increase the risk of surgical complications. You should talk to your surgeon or your primary healthcare provider in advance and provide a complete list of every type of medication you take. The list should include: Prescription drugs, over the counter medications, supplements (including vitamins), herbal preparations, as well as any topical gels, creams, ointments or patches, eye drops, or any other medications you take.

It’s important to refrain from taking medications that could interfere with blood clotting, at least four to five days before your surgery,
these include:

  • Aspirin
  • Coumadin
  • Plavix
  • Motrin
  • Vitamin E
  • Fish oil
  • Other medications that thin the blood

Your surgeon will instruct you on exactly how many days before surgery to stop taking blood thinners and/or any other types of medications you are on.

Diabetic Medication

Your physician may order that diabetic medications for type II diabetes, such as metformin, glyburide or other oral hypoglycemics, be withheld several days before surgery. Metformin is thought to contribute to a specific postoperative complication called “postoperative lactic acidosis (caused by a buildup of lactic acid in the bloodstream).”

If you are on insulin, your dosage the morning of surgery may be adjusted or eliminated (because you will be fasting) and blood glucose monitoring before your surgery will determine any further insulin needs. If you have diabetes, be sure to consult with your surgeon about which diabetic medications to take before surgery.

Blood Pressure Medication

Some of your medications, such as those that control blood pressure, are often ordered to be taken as usual, including on the morning of surgery.

Be sure to consult with your healthcare provider to be sure. If you do need to take medication on the day of surgery, you can take your pill/s with a very small sip of water.

What To Bring


As you are preparing for your upcoming scheduled heart bypass surgery, here is a list of some of the most important items to bring with you: 

  • Storage containers for glasses, contact lenses or dentures if you wear them
  • Insurance card and personal ID card
  • Emergency contact information
  • Robe and rubber backed, non-skid slippers and comfortable loose fitting clothing
  • A copy of your legal paperwork pertaining to your health (such as your health care proxy or living will)
  • A complete list of all the medications you currently take

You should not bring:

  • Valuables
  • Jewelry
  • Watches
  • Credit cards
  • Cash (except for some small bills if you plan to shop at the hospital gift shop)

Note, you will not need any personal items until after you are moved to a regular hospital room, so instead of bringing these items with you on the day of surgery, you may want to leave your bag packed at home and delegate someone to bring in your items once you are transferred from the ICU or CICU to a regular hospital bed.

Pre-Op Lifestyle Changes

There are several things that you can do before surgery to make your recovery after surgery more productive. These include:

Quit smoking: This should be done at least two to four weeks (if not longer) before your operation. Smoking can delay the healing process. Studies have shown that there is an increase in the risk of surgical complications in those who smoke. In fact, according to the World Health Organization, smokers are at “significantly higher risk than non-smokers for post-surgical complications, including impaired heart and lung functions, infections and delayed or impaired wound healing.”  There is some very encouraging news from study outcomes regarding what happens when a person quits smoking before surgery. New research discovered that those who quit smoking around four weeks before surgery had a lower risk of complications, as well as a better rate of recovery after surgery, as compared to smokers in the study. 

Perform deep breathing exercises: This is encouraged after any type of surgery to help lower the risk of pneumonia, a common postoperative complication. It's a great idea to begin deep breathing exercises before surgery. Your healthcare team will give you a device called an incentive spirometer, which will help you to take slow, deep breaths. Practicing at least every three hours is recommended. Interestingly, studies have shown that when deep breathing exercises are started before surgery, it helps to reduce the risk of pneumonia or other lung problems after surgery. In fact, a 2018 study, published in the British Medical Journal, found that pneumonia and other serious lung complications, were decreased by 50% in those who consulted with a therapist and started learning to do breathing exercises before surgery. 

Quit drinking: You should abstain from drinking alcohol at least two days before surgery, this includes beer, hard liquor and wine.  A 2016 study, published by the journal BMC Cardiovascular Disorders, has shown that heavy drinking (more than 21 units/7.14 ounces per week) was linked with an increased death rate in study participants who had a heart bypass procedure (CABG). 

If you are a heavy drinker and cannot stop drinking, be sure to let your cardiologist, primary healthcare provider, or surgeon know about it before the surgery.

Eat a healthy diet: This will more than likely be on the to-do list for most people who have received heart bypass surgery. Eating well before your surgery will help promote healing after your surgery. You should follow the eating plan your doctor or dietitian has recommended for you. The American Heart Association has some specific recommendations on heart healthy foods, but your doctor may recommend a specific diet. Managing obesity and staying within normal weight limits is an important part of long-term recovery from heart surgery, but before your surgical procedure is not the time for any type of quick weight-loss diet. Any type of weight reduction should be slow and steady; you need to provide adequate nutrients, calories, and protein your body will need to heal itself after surgery. If you don’t have an appetite, you can take a supplemental drink. If you are having trouble staying on the diet that your healthcare provider recommends, or if you are gaining or losing weight too fast, ask your doctor about consulting with a dietician.

Stay active: It’s important to stay active before heart bypass surgery. The American Heart Association has some specific recommendations on what type of exercise you should do on a regular basis and how often. But always consult with your healthcare provider before starting any type of exercise.

Contact Your Healthcare Provider

You should contact your healthcare provider if:

  • You have any questions or concerns about the heart bypass surgical procedure itself
  • You need clarification on how to prepare for your surgery, such as which medications you should take on the morning of your surgery
  • You develop a fever, the flu or a cold before going to check into the hospital for your surgery
  • You have a change of mind about having the procedure done
  • You need to reschedule the surgical procedure

A Word From Verywell

In rare instances, there can be serious complications of heart bypass surgery, including death. At Verywell Health, we know that no one likes to think about end-of-life situations. But, anytime a person has any type of surgical procedure, it’s important to be prepared and make your end-of-life wishes clear, just in case. If you have advanced directives in place, let your family and your healthcare provider know a few weeks before surgery.

Was this page helpful?
Article Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.

  1. UCSF Cardiac Surgery. Coronary Artery bypass graft (CABG).

  2. Seconds Count (SCAI) What to expect before coronary bypass surgery. Updated November 22, 2014.

  3. Columbia Heart Surgery. Preparing for surgery.

  4. e-Journal of Cardiology Practice. What drugs should be stopped before cardiac surgery and how long? Updated January 30, 2007.

  5. World Health Organization. Smoking greatly increases risk of complications after surgery. Updated January 20, 2020.

  6. Boden I, Skinner EH, Browning L, et al. Preoperative physiotherapy for the prevention of respiratory complications after upper abdominal surgery: pragmatic, double blinded, multicentre randomised controlled trial. BMJ. Published online January 24, 2018:j5916. doi:10.1136/bmj.j5916 

  7. Grabas MPK, Hansen SM, Torp-Pedersen C, et al. Alcohol consumption and mortality in patients undergoing coronary artery bypass graft (Cabg)-a register-based cohort study. BMC Cardiovasc Disord. 2016;16(1):219. doi:10.1186/s12872-016-0403-3 

  8. Day, J. Intermountain Healthcare. Changes to make before and after heart surgery. Updated February 25, 2014