‘A Crushing Chest Pain’
Recovering from cardiac surgery
The attention surrounding preventing and recognizing heart disease in women has been significant, but there are additional aspects to be aware of as well – including the recovery process following cardiac surgery.
“Heart disease is the leading cause of death in men and women, [according to the American Heart Association],” said Pam Craig, doctor of nursing practice and board certified cardiovascular nurse practitioner with CHRISTUS Health Shreveport- Bossier. “Approximately 610,000 lives are lost each year from this deadly disease. Unfortunately, women represent 51 percent of these casualties. Interestingly, only 54 percent of women recognize that heart disease was the leading killer in American females, [according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention].”
Craig said while both men and women undergo the same cardiac tests and procedures as men, recovery time and treatment options may vary, depending on age and the advanced stages of the disease.
“According to the AHA, in 2010, 25 percent of coronary artery bypass patients were women and approximately 32 percent of patients who required balloon and stent procedures were women,” she said. “Unfortunately, women who undergo these procedures are older and have more advanced disease than the typical man. The reason behind these differences are diverse.”
A common symptom associated with a heart attack is “crushing chest pain,” but symptoms for females can be atypical and oftentimes go unnoticed or misinterpreted – leading women to seek medical attention later than men.
“Sometimes women only feel a little short of breath or a little more tired than usual,” Craig said. “They could complain only of back or jaw pain instead of chest pain which may lead clinicians to look for non-cardiac causes of the symptoms. According to the AHA, 64 percent of women who lost their life from a heart attack had no symptoms or warning signs.”
“In addition, women are caretakers and put others health before theirs,” she said. “They care for their husbands, children, friends, neighbors, etcetera before seeking care for themselves. As a result, women suffer from heart conditions later in life and often have more advanced disease processes, [according] to the AHA.”
For both men and women, recovery time can vary depending on the type of procedure or surgery done.
“As with men, recovery time for women undergoing cardiac procedures such as cardiac catheterizations, balloons and stents and bypass surgery is basically the same,” Craig said.
“For patients having cardiac catheterizations two to three days of taking it easy to allow the procedure sites to heal is typical. Most patients can resume their normal activities after this timeframe. For patients who have had balloons or stents, an overnight stay in the hospital is required for close monitoring, followed by taking it easy for several days post procedure once discharged.”
“Bypass patients have a little longer recovery,” she said. “Typically, seven to 10 day inpatient stays are required barring no complications, followed by six weeks of restricted activities to allow for the surgical incision to heal.”
Craig said typically a patient is referred to an outpatient cardiac rehab facility for a six to nine week sessions of monitored exercise during recovery.
“During the six week recovery time, there is no heavy lifting, pushing, pulling or driving,” she said.
“This allows ample time for the sternum to heal. Often, we think of it as ‘healing a broken bone.’ It takes about six to eight weeks for a bone to heal, therefore it will take about six to eight weeks for the sternum to heal after bypass surgery.”
As far as returning to work goes, most patients are not able and don’t feel ready enough until the six to eight week recovery period is over; Craig said that’s how long it typically takes to get back on your feet.
“A piece of crucial advice for patients is to seek medical attention when something ‘just doesn’t feel right,’” Craig said.
“I promise, when a woman complains, most physicians listen attentively because they know what the statistics show and don’t want you to suffer a fatal outcome. Don’t wait for the typical crushing chest pain symptoms, because they may not ever occur. Delaying medical attention, because you ‘don’t have time’ or ‘don’t think your symptoms are anything to worry about’ can result in a detrimental outcome. There have been so many advances in healthcare in recent years, but if medical care is delayed or ignored these advances won’t be beneficial to those that need it the most.”