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Issues with breathing after bypass surgery
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Issues with breathing after bypass surgery

I am a 46 year-old woman who had to undergo a quadruple coronary bypass operation just over 5 weeks ago. My question has to do with how having that operation may have affected my breathing/lung capacity. There were no complications with the surgery. Actually I was a picture-perfect patient being released from the hospital 3 days post-op.

During my waking hours I find myself having what I would describe as a "spontaneous deep breath sigh" several times an hour. I remember them starting within a day of the surgery. At first they were just there but now when it happens there is pain accompanying the "sigh". It almost seems like periodically I am not getting enough oxygen to my lungs and the sigh is a way to catch up. I never know when they are going to happen. They occur without warning and are very fast. I am a former smoker if this means anything. I just know that what is happening doesn't seem normal unless of course someone else here can tell me they have experienced the same thing.

I know this sounds peculiar and I have mentioned it to my cardiologist but I don't think he understood what I was saying.    Anyone ever hear of anything like this happening?

I should say that since having the operation I have had a few of my old symptoms come back and a stress test that they did a week ago showed an abnormality so I will be returning to have a cath done within the week to see if any of the grafts failed.

I would love to trade experiences with other in regards to what happend with them during the recovery period after having this surgery.

Thank you for your time..

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Hi TamEstep,

Sorry to hear about your recent health problems, although it sounds like you are recovering well.  The "sigh" you describe is not symptoms of too little oxygen.  Your brainstem controls your respiratory center and responds to low oxygen by increasing your breathing rate or breaths per minute.

Spontaneous sighs or yawning are usually associated with anxiety or increased vagal tone--if I understand your concern correctly.  I've never had a patient describe chest pain symptoms or anginal symptoms associated with or related to a "sigh" so I doubt it relates to your coronary disease.  You didn't mention shortness of breath or pain when you take a deep breath.  Some shortness of breath after surgery is normal and can take weeks to months to recover.  If your sighs are associated with shortness of breath or pain with the breath, I would talk to your doctor about it.  This doesn't sound like what you are describing though....

I hope this helps answer your question and hopefully someone else on the board has had a similar experience.  I would not worry about the sighing, however, and imagine it will go away with time.

Good luck.
13 Comments
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Hi,  Welcome to this board.  :-)   I don't have to tell you as I'm sure you know undergoing open heart surgery is a major operation.   I had Open Heart for a diseased Mitral Valve in May of 2004 in which I received a mechanical St. Jude valve to replace my old one..  It works really well - but the coumadin and dealing with INR levels are a very hard to adjust to.  

You asked: My question has to do with how having that operation may have affected my breathing/lung capacity.

I felt after my open heart surgery - my lungs just weren't doing what I had hoped they would do as fast as I wanted them to.  I wanted a faster 'recovery' rate and my expectations were far more than I probably should have expected.  I did find that if I did that 'breathing' tube and those 'breathing' exercises' helped me a great deal to expand my lungs.  But it took 'time' and 'patience' and I kept having to work at it..  You had surgery just 5 weeks ago !!!  That's early and recovery for "my" lungs took longer than that.  But its wise to get yourself checked out and make sure nothing else is going on..  

You said:
There were no complications with the surgery. Actually I was a picture-perfect patient being released from the hospital 3 days post-op.

Good for You  !! - 3 days is very fast - you must have been in fairly good shape when you went in.   I was to - but my INR levels were low and I couldn't leave till 5 days post op and I got my INR up..   But that's ok - the docs and nurses were nice enough.. But the minute they said I could leave - I booked it - and I was never so happy to see those IV's and needles go away..  

I do remember periodically having a hard time breathing in the first couple mos - but the more I exercised my lungs and used my (coach) the better it got for me..  I know its hard to do it - as you think you might not be able to breath - and its very tiring in the beginning - but for me the breathing exercises I think helped me immensensely and the rehab booklet exercises helped alot to..  I think we must get overall alittle 'stiff' and maybe the exercise helps to move our blood around and give us more circulation...  I don't know..  It worked - those recommendations they gave me when I left the hospital - were really helpful in my recovery - even though they seemed kind of silly and so little.  It made it alot better.  

Since your going back to the cath lab - and you showed an abnormality - (Which I did not experience) - so there could be other things going on.   But I truly believe the helpful hints they tell us to do when we leave the hospital - are really vital to our recovery along with rest inbetween.  

You asked how others faired from their surgery - You know what I did - 3 weeks after my Open Heart - I went to the beach - used my heart pillow as a regular pillow and I layed in the sand in the sun and got a nice tan..  Spread my lotion - did my 'coach' and rehab exercises - right there - read a book or magazine and from time to time - I hopped on a boogie board and road the waves !!!  What a BLAST !!  I did this for the rest of my recovery.  About 2 mos after my surgery sometimes I would do a long walk at the beach and then lay down at the beach and rest...  sometimes I flew with my kite..  Oh the things you have to do to 'rest' - everyone was so afraid I would overdo myself..   But I proved them 'wrong'..  Mainly cause I couldn't do the things anyways.  For me I had run 35 races the year before and they fully expected me to get right back out there and do it right away - only I didn't - mainly cause I couldn't breath..  I went back to work 10 weeks later - and faced 183 boxes in my new office that I had to 'unpack'..  well I did it one box at a time and only a couple boxes a day..  :-)  and for the rest of the day - I looked out my window and dreamed I was at the 'beach'...  

Quote - I would love to trade experiences with other in regards to what happend with them during the recovery period after having this surgery. -- end of quote

Good Luck and I hope your test comes out well..  

Best Wishes
Konopka (runner)
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Thank you Konopka for your input.

I guess I too have been alittle impatient with my recovery. I was tickled to pieces when the Dr said I could start driving two weeks ago. *lol* I have to admit.. I did cheat alittle. My recovery from the surgery has been fantastic. Around the house I am almost back to the level of capability as I was prior to the surgery. I had hoped to return to work next week but with the heart cath on Monday I doubt that will happen for a couple more weeks. Im just praying that they can go with a stent(s) if need be.

I have slacked off of using that breathing contraption. I'll start using it again and see if that makes any difference with my lung capacity. I probably should have asked about this sigh thing prior to being discharged but it just never occured to me that it may keep happening this long or that it would start to hurt when it happens. I did mention it to the surgeon during one of my follow-up appointments but he just couldn't understand what I was saying and because he didn't seem alarmed I dropped the subject.  

I envy you and the beach. I am in North Central Ohio and the only beach I see right now has a load of ice on it.

One other question if you don't mind. The incision on my chest. Did you experience a burning sensation starting approximately 2 weeks after your surgery? I am assuming it is nerve endings reconnecting. Numbness started on the left side of my chest working toward the right. The feeling has since started to return, left to right. Where the incision is and on each side I still have this burning sensation.

Thank you again Konopka.. You have no idea how good it is to be able to talk to someone who has had something similar done.

Stay healthy...
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I had a double bypass almost two years ago at age 54. Similar to you, I also recovered quickly and went home in 3 days. Also I was anxious to get back to my normal routine of running and bicycling. I think I started to cycle at about 4 weeks and run at 8. I felt pretty good right away, but in retrospect, I was still seeing improvement in my running for at least 9 months, maybe more.
   I did have what I would call hypersensivity on my left chest that I assumed was due to the removal of the internal mammary artery. I still get occasional tightness in that area that I dread might be angina. However, it does not progress with exercise and has improved considerably over the last year. I did not have any burning at the incision so that might worry me a bit with your abnormal stress test. Its good that you are getting the cath I would think.
   I now obsess over minimizing all my risk factors in hopes I can avoid a second bypass. I found that I had high homocycteine which is now normalized with folic acid and B vitamins. LDL is down to 71 with 20mg of Lipitor. I would urge you to find a doctor who wants to treat you agressively rather than handing you a bottle of statins and sending you off for a year (as my first cardiologist did). Good Luck.
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I had two open heart surgeries. Recovery went well.  I think what happens with the sighing is that with the sternal incision, you breathe more shallow so that there is a build up of carbon dioxide.  When carbon dioxide reaches a certain level, the brain stem centers will stimulate this deep breathing to get rid of the excess CO2.  I also learned in pathophysiology courses that we all sigh a number of times each minute so this is very normal.

I was back to work two weeks after each of my surgeries.  I was not a 100% but I did well.  Cardiac Rehabilitation was very important for me.  I had many other complications but nothing directly relating to the surgery.
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Welcome back to the board.  Nice to see you participating again.
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Hi TamEstep,  I'm glad you found my post helpful.  :-) I'm a real chatter box..  But, it helped me tremendously to hear from others who had experienced open heart surgery.  I had a heart attack at age 37 and ICD inplant at age 45 and Open Heart at age 49..  But I feel great.  Truly I feel great..  I found a wonderful web board prior to my open heart surgery:  www.valvereplacment.com - they helped me to understand the process and recovery and how I might be pushing myself too fast.  I think we are all eager to get back to normal and put it behind us.  

If you were able to drive after two weeks - then you are doing really well.  I remember my feeling the 'muscles pull' for several weeks after my surgery when I was driving.  

You mentioned that:  I had hoped to return to work next week but with the heart cath on Monday I doubt that will happen for a couple more weeks. Im just praying that they can go with a stent(s) if need be.

I'll be praying for you - that stent (s) if need be can be helpful in alleviating any problems.  

I don't want to sound like a 'mother' - but the best thing to do is 'rest' and don't be in such a hurry to go back to the rat race.  My doc suggested I go back part-time - but I was so lonely and couldn't stand the thought of being alone - but I really wish I had taken his suggestion and went back part-time..  Please remember your body has gone through a very big surgery and although your feeling great - working the muscles gradually and taking the time to rest is good.  WE don't have to worry about our jobs - they are always going to be there.  But sometimes we just need to say - its okay to take it easy - do my exercises and come back gradually.  I had my surgery in May and I have days that I feel fantastic - but then I go out and do to much and then I'm wicked tired.  I heard it can take 9 mos to a year to 'fully' recover.  

I'll never forget the day I heard my valve 'click' - when I opened my mouth I could hear it - if I closed my mouth - the sound went away.  Kind of like a radio - turned on and off - It freaked me out at first - but then I decided - I was very fortunate to have access and such good medical care.  If this had happened 12 years ago - after my heart attack - I might not have done so well.  Technology has come sooo far and we are so lucky to be able to see the rewards.  

You said:  I have slacked off of using that breathing contraption. I'll start using it again and see if that makes any difference with my lung capacity.  

I can't say enough how much the breathing exercises and rehab exercises helped me - its amazing how that little 'coach' contraption helped me..  I thought it was crazy to think that thing would make a difference - but it did !!!  Those sit down exercises with the upward arm movement really helped me tooo.  

My surgeon said that when I run - I may feel pain in my sternum - but I said:  well if I do - I'll just take some 'motrin' and I'm not going to stop doing the things I love to do.  After all that's why I had the surgery - to get back to a full life.  As it ended up - I had no pain..  I know some people who say they can't feel their sternum for years after their surgery. But I can feel mine when I touch it..  I think the guy who invented 'motrin' was a genius..  I used it so much and I 'think' it helped with my inflamation (inflammation)..  

I envy you and the beach. I am in North Central Ohio and the only beach I see right now has a load of ice on it.  

I'm so sorry to hear that...  I love the ocean and sitting around and people watching and napping was great..  If you can find a place you love to go to - I highly recommend it..  I was lucky enough that I was just 'barely' able to hold off my surgery till my daughter graduated from college..  But it was close - I could barely walk, talk and breath some days.  It was just awful.  I feel so much better today..  Just a couple weeks ago my daughter got 'married'..  But I like to think I'm gaining a son-in-law rather than losing a daughter..  Since he joined the Army - I tell myself we're just a flight away..  of course thats if he stays in the States.  My daughter will move 'when' he finds out where he gets stationed next.  Which should be in a couple weeks.  I was really sad about her moving away - but I'm so happy she's found the love of her life..  

One other question if you don't mind. The incision on my chest. Did you experience a burning sensation starting approximately 2 weeks after your surgery?

I'm not sure if I remember my sternum felt like 'burning' per se - I think mine felt kind of 'itchy' and a streak of tiny pains from time to time - but I got the same feeling after my ICD inplant - I chaulked mine up to thinking my 'inside' tissues were going through the 'healing' process.  I don't get them anymore..  

But you know I remember thinking in the beginning - recovery from open heart to me was like the New England 'weather' wait 5 minutes and it changes.. But it got better in 'stages' and keeping my 'patience' for a quick recovery was very frustrating..  

Stay healthy... and let us know how you make out with your cath..  

Best Wishes
Konopka (runner)



pms barbie (06-Jan-05)  Marilyn Welcome back to the board. Nice to see you participating again.

Thank You - its been awhile - and I have been reading the posts usually once a week - but didn't have much to offer for support -but TamEstep reminds me of myself - only several mos ago.  I was so appreciative of the support I got on some other web boards..  It helped me alot.. just knowing there are others who have had open heart and are able to get through it and live very happily.  :-)


Best Wishes
Marilyn






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Hey Marilyn,
Good to see you back on the forum.  Did you say you had a mitral valve replacement?? Perhaps I am thinking of someone else.

You don't happen to live near any of the South Carolina Beaches do you?  Just curious.  
Thanks,
Uptown
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Hi, nice of you to welcome me back.  Thanks  -

In regards to your question if I had a valve replacement and the answer is yes.  I have a St. Jude mechanical valve.  I wish I had been able to get a repair but my valve was too far gone for that and so now I live on 'coumadin' the rest of my life.  Which I have to say the med hasn't really bothered me but getting all those tests have been bothersome..  I did finally get a home monitor and I'm 'suppose' to get my home kits today..  I've had a terrible time getting it - but if I could do it at home it would save so much 'sick' leave from work to get tested.  Well, hopefully today and I get my kits - I won't have that problem.  I'm keeping my fingers crossed.  

No, I don't live in the Carolinas - although I wish I did..

I live in the Northeast and we pretty much have two weather patterns up here 1. winter and 2. 4th of July - and then we go back to winter.  I had my surgery the end of May and I was in the ocean by the end of June - it was darn cold - but so much fun to ride the boogie board on those waves.  Virginia beaches have some nice waves to boogie board on to..  

Nice to chat with you -  I'm just about to get dressed and go to work !!!  that nasty 4 letter word that pays the bills and puts food on the table.  I just got a home heating oil bill the other day - and the charge was astronomically UNBELIEVABLE !!!  

SO as they say at Disney:  Hi Ho, Hi Ho, its Off to work I go..  

Marilyn  
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Runnertom..

Hypersensitivity is a good word for what I feel across my chest. What a strange feeling that is. The burning I feel on the incision seems to be superficial, not the same burning/tightness "in the chest" sensation I had when the blockages were present. Along with the burning/tingling feeling along the incision, normally in the evening I get the sensation that the incision is tight and stretching side to side. I really am assuming this is part of the healing process although, I will bring it to the Dr's attention when I see them, thank you.

Soon after returning home from the surgery I was slightly concerned that I had contracted a small infection at the base of my chest incision and on the incision closest to my ankle where they removed a vein to use. I notified the surgeon (as I was told to do) and upon viewing both sites he said it was alright and not to worry. I still do have some redness in the surrounding tissue in both those areas but not to the degree it was initially. A small portion of the burning I attribute to that.

Kristin..

Thank you for the explanation about the sighing. That makes sense. I hadn't mentioned that I do breath shallow yet you picked that out of the air. Thank you. Hopefully using my little "coach" as Konopka calls it and mentioned the sighing will become a thing of the past in the future. It is kind of funny sitting around family and this happens and they think that something they have said I am "sighing" in disagreement to. *lol*

I'd like to Thank the Dr too for his/her explanation but I am sorry I have no idea what vagal tone is. I'm not so sure this has anything to do with anxiety. The most anxiety I have experienced since this all began was removing those little steri-strip bandages. *lol* I had so much tape stuck to me in so many areas that it was misery pulling each one of those off.

Konopka..

Thank you, thank you, thank you... This has helped me tremendously too. My family (children) have had a pretty tough time with all of this. Not only because their Mom now appears to be a mere mortal but also the news they received from the Medical staff/Dr's *after* my surgery made them realize that they are mere mortals as well. My problems are genetic which means they will REALLY need to be on their guard as well. We all knew that heart problems ran in the family but to date it had only affected the men. I am the first female in the family that this has occured with and the first overall of my generation in the family. My siblings and my cousins are all scrambling now to get evaluated.  It's partly my fault with my children. I have had "problems" for quite some time but I downplayed it. Even after having a heart attack a year ago I convinced them that it was mild and that I really was alright and that everything would be fine. So, even though they know Mom is on the road to recovery it is hard for them to deal with this. I'm still guilty, I guess. I have downplayed the heart cath that I am getting on Monday with them as well. What we Mom's do for our kids....

Tom's comment about finding a cardiologist that took a more aggressive stance is exactly what I ended up doing. My original cardiologist couldn't fathom that a _female my age and in the shape I was_ could have a "real" problem. He missed all five of my blockages when performing a heart cath a year and a half ago. To make a long story short, this past Novemeber when I endedup in the local emergency room TWICE with chest pains in one week, he told me that I would be fine until my next scheduled appointment, which is actually January 11th ( I really should call and cancel that baby!). He was going on an extended vacation and couldn't fit me in prior. After explaining to his staff that I REALLY felt I couldn't last that long I was told that if I went to another cardiologist prior to the scheduled appointment that regrettfully they would not be able to keep me on as a patient. I never looked back. Two nights later when the problems began again instead of going to the same hospital ER we went to one of the main hospitals in Northwest Ohio for cardiac care. That was the week of Thanksgiving. They have been tremendous. I have no doubt whatsoever had I attempted to wait until 1/11 that I would be in much more serious condition if not gone.  I was blessed with finding a great group of physicians.

I am new to all of this but the only piece of wisdom I could possibly pass on to anyone is don't give up and trust what your body is telling you. Like I said, I knew for a long time what was coming, I myself tried to deny it. I didn't want to face the inconvenience of what was going to be inevitable. I finally came to the realization that I couldn't go on forever the way I was and that I wanted to live a long life or by golly I was going to die trying to.

Thank you all again... You are angels whether you know it or not...

With Love...
Tammy

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Avatar_n_tn
It is normal to have shortness of breath after heart surgery.  This is a big surgery and can affect every body system.  I found that I was short of breathe for many months after surgery.  I had to keep doing my exercises and in time it became much better.
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Beyond the physical problems I had to deal with that were quite transient, the biggest issue I had to deal with is getting over the fact that I did indeed have coronary artery disease when it was the last thing I ever thought I would have to worry about. My family history is benign, I have been a serious runner for 30 years, never smoked, cholesterol OK, yada, yada. The additional shock is reading that the median patency or lifespan of the venous grafts is only 5 years. The popular understanding of bypass surgery is that it "fixes the problem" and you are as good as new. Nothing could be further from the truth. Its an ongoing process like cars rusting in Cleveland.
I have made it my business to learn everything I can about the disease. This forum has been a great help. In addition, I read the abstracts of the major medical journals like Circulation. NEJM, and JAMA and buy the articles that of particular interest. Some of the recent studies about cholesterol lowering regimens are really exciting. They are showing that in some cases, plaque can actually be reversed with appropriate therapy. Much of this reasearch is going on at the Cleveland Clinic.
   I know one man who had 3 bypass surgeries in two years and two others that had repeats after 15 to 20. I would like to do better than that as I am sure you would. Recovery won't be quite as easy the next time around.

Tom
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I am a 47 year old woman who has had off pump By Pass surgery on Oct. 14, 2004. I too was the model patient, went home three days after surgery. I have high blood pressure and I am currently on Diovan 320 mg. This seems to be the only med that I can take that works to keep my blood pressure down, I also have hypothyroidism. My symptoms prior to the operation were shortness of breath, feeling extreme fatigue, some dizziness at times, pressure in chest, a lot of fluttering and at times felt like my heart was doing flip flops in my chest, but never any pain. I had a stress test with the dye injected which showed what the cardiologist thought was a blockage. He set up the heart cath and during the cath was in an artery off the aeorta where he thought the blockage was and I started having a huge spasm, again not much pain but I could feel it happening. After conferring with his associates and a heart surgeon it was felt that the condition I had was arterial heart spasms that would lead to a heart attack. All of my arteries were clear, no plaque build up ( surprise, surprise) But my family history on both sides of heart attack led them to believe that this may be genetic and the possible cause of family heat attacks. I was put on several different heart meds over a month period none of them relieved the symptoms and it was decided to do the surgery. I have to say that the surgery itself was nowhere near as bad as I thought it would be but it has been harder to recover that I thought. I have been having a lot of muscle pain with turning of my head during driving and especially while trying to sleep. I sleep on my side arms curled in toward my chest when I wake in the morning and several times during the night I am so very sore. I have tried to sleep in other positions but end up back in that position. Now it feels that my ribs are overlapped in places. When I told the cardiologist about this and he felt my still very sore incision he said it was all fine. But I feel I should be healed more than I am. I am in cardiac rehab, had to quit the 2nd. week after I started because of the pulling, burning pain in my chest.  I waited a month and have restarted and again I am so very sore. Again, cardiologist says all is well. I dont want to sound like a baby but would love to know if others too have felt this after 4 months post op. Other than these things I feel great... so much more energy, went back to work 5 weeks after surgery. Any comments would welcome.
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