Pain Management After Cardiac Surgery

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By Dr. G.P. Dureja, Pain Management

Medications need to be administered to get one moving after a cardiac surgery. Experiencing pain in the shoulder areas and chest is very common after such a surgery. One of the severe conditions that affect people at this stage is angina (acute pain due to insufficient blood supply to one’s heart). Post-surgical pain can be mild or severe; ranging from a burning sensation in the chest to acute pain, particularly at the site of incision (surgical cut) and the chest tubes. However, easier and faster healing is possible with effective treatment and proper management of pain.

Some discomfort around the cut and in your muscles — including itching, tightness, and numbness along the incision — are normal. But it shouldn’t hurt as much as it did before your surgery. Your legs may hurt more than your chest if the surgeon used leg veins as grafts. The soreness and stiffness will fade with time. Gentle exercise will help, too.

When Should I Seek for Pain Medications?

You should tell your nurse as soon as you feel pain or discomfort before it becomes too severe. Also ask for pain medication before getting out of bed, walking, or doing breathing exercises if these activities worsen the pain. Don’t hesitate to ask for pain medication, because it is harder to ease pain once it has started.

How would you monitor and control the pain?

Here is a list of pain medications advised for pain management after a heart surgery. But do note that these medicines are not devoid of side-effects. They might result in dizziness, drowsiness or exhaustion. In case of constipation (that is very common after a heart surgery), have a balanced diet constituting of vegetables and fruits as well as drink plenty of water every day.

  1. Fentanyl and Morphine
  2. Tylenol # 3, Oxycodone
  3. Acetaminophen
  4. Celecoxib, Rofecoxib, Naproxen sodium, Ibuprofen

Dealing with Pain and Using Pain Medication at Home-

  1. When at home, always follow your doctor’s instructions for taking pain or any other medication.
  2. Heating-pad can be used to ease muscle aches. However be careful not to use it against incision sites.
  3. Pillows aid in cushioning the incisions on the chest and help cope with the pain that accompanies coughing and deep breathing.
  4. A surgical bra that is not under-wired can be worn the entire day for a month after the surgery. Also, adjustable bras having velvo closures would support the chest and lessen the pain felt on the incisions.


Healthy food choices help the healing process. Your doctor will let you know if you should have or avoid specific things. You may not feel like eating for a while after your surgery. Try smaller meals, more often. If your appetite doesn’t return within a few weeks, bring this up with your doctor.