Your doctor’s given you the news that surgery is the best way to remedy a problem with your heart so you can get well again. This may make you uneasy — after all, heart surgery is serious business.

But there are some things you can do to prepare for heart surgery ahead of time so that you are in the best possible shape to endure an operation.

“Heart surgery may be the best option to repair or replace heart valves, repair a damaged area of the heart, or implant a device to help the heart beat better,” said Joseph J. Stella, D.O., thoracic surgeon at Geisinger Wyoming Valley Medical Center in Wilkes-Barre. “In order to get the most benefit from heart surgery, it’s important to make sure you’re in good health before the procedure to make the healing process easier.”

Know your medications

In the weeks leading up to heart surgery, it’s important for your doctor to know what types of medications you take.

Provide a list of all the prescriptions and over-the-counter medications or supplements you take—even vitamins—as well as how often you take them and the dosage. It’s especially important for your doctor to be aware of medications you take that contain aspirin because of its blood-thinning properties. Other vitamins and supplements you take could cause unwanted side effects.

Your doctor may ask you to stop taking various medications one to two weeks before your surgery.

Stop smoking

Quitting smoking before surgery has a number of short-term and long-term benefits. Smokers who undergo surgery are at greater risk of complications, including blood clots and breathing problems during the procedure.

“Your body begins to heal shortly after you stop smoking,” said Dr. Stella. “Not only will it make your surgery go more smoothly and reduce the risk of complications, it’ll also lower your risk for many types of cancer, as well as your blood pressure and heart disease in the future.”

Follow your doctor’s orders

Prior to heart surgery, whether it’s an open-heart procedure or something less invasive, you’ll likely need to have several tests, including blood tests, a chest x-ray and an electrocardiogram (EKG). An EKG tests the electrical function of your heart, including how fast and strong your heart beats and whether or not your heart beats regularly.

“These tests will help your cardiologist and other doctors ensure that the systems in your body are working properly before your heart procedure,” said Dr. Stella.

Your doctor also will ask you to let her or him know if you’re not feeling well in the days leading up to your heart surgery. If you get a cold or have flu symptoms like chills or a fever, have an asthma attack, unusual shortness of breath, a stomach virus or another medical condition that arises, you should let your doctor know immediately. In some cases, you may need to postpone surgery.

“In the weeks leading up to your surgery, following your doctor’s orders is important, as is asking all of the questions you have so you fully understand your surgery and recovery,” said Dr. Stella.

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