hi. my father had triple bypass surgery about 3 months ago. he is experiencing a lot of pain and numbness in his left fingers, especially the ring and pinky fingers. what is causing this? what can be done to ease the pain? is this normal? should i be concerned?
Changes in sensation in the hands, arms, and chest, are not uncommon after heart surgery. The first piece of advice I can offer is to make sure that your surgeon and your cardiologist are aware. If your dad has previously reported the pain, it is still important to let them know that it is persisting because it suggests that things arent settling down and returning to normal and that further assessment is indicated.
So why do patients experience these symptoms? There are a number of possibilities that range from direct injury to the nerves supplying that area of the hand to what is called 'referred pain', which is when nerve injury in one part of the body is felt somewhere else.
At the time of open heart surgery, the chest is opened by cutting through the skin, bone, and muscle in the middle of the chest. During this process small nerve fibers are also cut. This can lead to a numb sensation in the middle of the chest. Instead of numbness, some patients experience pain in the chest. And others, experience numbness or discomfort in the arm or hand due to the injured nerves sending confusing signals to the brain. So to answer your question, these symptoms can be normal and in the majority of patients will improve with time.
If the pain is getting worse of if your dad is noticing associated weakness in his hand, it is important that this be followed up. A neurologist can start with a history and physical exam and may proceed to nerve function tests (nerve conduction study). There are a number of medications for nerve related pain although I would not recommend anti-inflammatories given your Dads history of bypass surgery and coronary disease.
I hope this information is helpful. I think the next best step is to call your cardiologist / cardiac surgeon and perhaps also check in with your family doctor to see what further investigations he/she recommends.
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