HV Balakrishna, a 60-year-old retail entrepreneur from Bengaluru, embraced healthy lifestyle mainly a balanced diet and workouts in 1996 after his sibling passed away from a heart attack. It was later confirmed that familial cholesterolemia, a genetically inherited condition that scuttles cholesterol management runs in Balakrishna’s family. Out of his eight siblings, five were diagnosed with this condition and unfortunately, three of them passed away from cholesterol-induced heart attacks. His worst fears came true in 2017 when multiple blockages were confirmed in his coronary arteries and he had to undergo a bypass heart surgery at Jayadeva Institute of Cardiovascular Sciences and Research, Bengaluru.
“It’s been a rule to not eat anything spicy and fried from outside. I haven’t broken this rule ever since,” he says. Even at home, he makes it a point to indulge in poori or even fried pappad only twice a year. He also makes sure he walks for about 50 minutes every day.
Experts opine that cardiac wellness has to be ensured after a bypass surgery through a multipronged strategy involving physical activity, diet control, medication and stress management. Though the initial months immediately after the surgery is crucial, most of these aspects have to be sustained to ensure cardiac wellness.
“The initial six to eight weeks after surgery are crucial for an effective recovery. Apart from medication, I regularly did breathing exercises and ensured adequate fluid intake. To keep infections at bay, visitors were also restricted,” he adds.
They also point out that after the initial recovery phase of about three months, the individual should stick to mild physical activities as per the doctor’s advice as the heart will take some time to catch up to its former functioning level.
Seema Tripathi, an assistant professor at Dayanand Brajendra Swarup College, Kanpur, narrates how her father took care of his health after his emergency bypass surgery. He was 55 at the time.
“He was very particular about his routine including his morning walk and food preferences (less oil and carbohydrates). He had medications and food on time and ensured to minimise stress and lead an active life even after his surgery.”
He went on to lead a healthy life for more than two decades till he passed away in 2019.
Lifestyle management is the key
Dr Narendra V, consultant, cardiovascular and thoracic surgery, Manipal Hospital, Bengaluru, says that the recovery period following a heart bypass surgery typically ranges from six weeks to three months.
This phase aims to reduce the risk factors for further heart diseases and includes strategies to assist people in acquiring good lifestyle habits to heal physically and resume normal activities. He cautions that cholesterol deposition is not going to stop after surgery or stenting, and it can only be delayed through proper diet and medications.
Experts suggest the following for a quick and effective recovery:
Physical activity (medically approved) is a key factor for quick recovery and enhancing the quality of life after a bypass surgery.
Walking and breathing exercises combined with chest physiotherapy as per the doctor’s instruction, can reinstate regular heart functions post-surgery.
A balanced diet and cholesterol control
Include fibre-rich vegetables and fruits in the diet and minimise the use of oil and salt.
Foods likely to increase cholesterol including red meat and processed junk food should be completely avoided. Dr Vaibhav Mishra, director and head, cardiac surgery (CTVS), Max Super Speciality Hospital, Delhi, says that excess body weight also increases the risk of diabetes and heart attacks.
Reducing stress also plays a major role as stress is directly linked with blood pressure – a major cause of concern for cardiac complications. Experts recommend reducing stress-inducing activities.
Annual cardiac health screening and follow-ups
Annual screening is recommended post the immediate recovery period.
Dr Mishra points out that, for an asymptomatic individual, an electrocardiogram, ECHO, HbA1c (blood sugar), cholesterol and kidney function test (KFT) can analyse heart health. On the other hand, recurrent symptoms like breathlessness, chest pain, palpitations, giddiness and swelling in the feet require intense screening through tests like CT-coronary scan and stress tests.
Avoid driving and lifting weights
Dr Narendra advises avoiding lifting heavy weights (more than five kilos) and driving vehicles for the first two months after the surgery. It is because the sternum (breastbone) needs time to heal, and unnecessary strain can cause a delay in the process.
Smoking is not only troublesome for the lungs but also the heart. Cigarette contains chemicals that make the artery walls sticky, which attracts plaque. This can clog the arteries and impact the blood supply to the heart.
Avoid excessive alcohol consumption
Consumption of alcohol in excess can increase the risk of serious complications like hypertension, heart failure and stroke.
Strict control over blood sugar and blood pressure levels
Comorbidities like diabetes and hypertension go hand in hand. Dr Mishra recommends that the blood sugar and blood pressure levels should be kept in control.
Experts recommend an array of lifestyle and dietary alterations to ensure a smooth recovery and maintain quality of life after an open-heart surgery. A balanced diet, regular medical check-ups and mild physical exercises are crucial to maintaining good heart health. Minimising stress is also important as high levels of stress and anxiety have a direct bearing on blood pressure and heart health.