What Causes Shortness Of Breath After Open Heart Surgery? 

  • Share this:
What Causes Shortness Of Breath After Open Heart Surgery? 

While open heart surgery is a major operation that involves cutting open your chest to fix a problem in the heart, blood vessels, or the surrounding soft tissues, such as –

1. Leaky valve,

2. Coronary artery disease,

3. Congenital heart defects (a hole in the heart or undeveloped heart structures),

4. Heart failure,

5. Arrhythmia (irregular heart rhythms),

6. Bulging in the aorta that passes through the chest, and more,

You may experience a few health issues post-surgery! They are –

1. Constipation due to the pain reliever medicines,

2. Chest muscle pain,

3. Pain in the incision site,

4. Loss of appetite,

5. Depression,

6. Mood swings,

7. Sleeping problems, and

8. Shortness of breath.


Shortness of breath, also called dyspnea, is a common side effect of open heart surgery. It may last for many weeks and even months. However, continuous medical care can help ease it out gradually over time.

Do you know what causes shortness of breath after open heart surgery?


This blog can reveal them to you!

Is It Normal To Experience Shortness of Breath After Open Heart Surgery?

To be honest, shortness of breath after open heart surgery is something that you are most likely to face, especially for the first few days post-operation. Typically, such side effects are temporary and normal for anyone undergoing the surgical operation to witness. It is because the general anesthesia administered to your body during the surgery changes the way you breathe.


Sometimes, they may come as red flags of further health complications, as the patients pursuing cardiac surgeries are prone to pulmonary impairments. They are vulnerable to gas exchange anomalies and can further get affected by lung diseases like fluid or mucus buildup, lung infections, etc.

5 Reasons To Experience Shortness of Breath After Open Heart Surgery!

The National Institute of Health, India, states that what causes shortness of breath after open heart surgery varies depending on multiple factors, such as the incision length and site, the use of the heart-lung bypass machine during the surgery, the type of open surgery conducted on your body, etc.

But the most plausible reasons for you to experience shortness of breath after open heart surgery are as follows!


Pneumonia, i.e., infections of the air sacs in one of your lungs or both, is a common health complication associated with open heart surgeries and can thereafter cause shortness of breath.  As a result, the recovery time increase, and patients stay longer in the intensive care unit.

A 2021 study on nearly 5000 people who underwent open heart surgery demonstrates that about 9.96% have developed pneumonia, which caused frequent shortness of breath during the recovery time.

Mucus Buildup in The Lungs

If and when you are on a ventilator after your open heart surgery, the general anesthesia dosage you are under can trigger mucus or secretion buildup in the airways of your lungs.

Although deep and forceful inhaling and exhaling can help clear this mucus, alas, it’s difficult after such a massive operation and can be extremely painful. As a result, your lungs cannot eradicate the mucus as they usually could.  It is when you may experience shortness of breath!

Pleural Effusion (Fluid Collection)

Pleural effusion, or the condition where fluids deposit between the layers lining the outside of the lungs and your chest cavity (called the pleural space), often takes the stage after open heart surgery. It is another health condition that throws signs of severe shortness of breath.

This health complication has the potential to pose a life threat. It is precisely why surgeons place chest tubes after open heart surgery to prevent such a complication from developing.


Shortness of breath after open heart surgery can also arise from a condition known as atelectasis. It is the medical term used to describe the collapsing airways in the lungs, leading to a reduction in the oxygen level in your body.

The general anesthesia used during cardiac surgeries and the prolonged bed rest with bare changes in the position that follows such operations contributes to the development of atelectasis.

Gradual Recovery Of Heart Muscle

You may experience shortness of breath even when your wounds are healing & your heart muscles are gradually recovering after open heart surgery. It happens specifically when you resume moving around, walking, and doing light household chores.

Such shortness of breath is not severe and goes away as you regain your cardiovascular fitness with time!

How Long Can You Experience Shortness of Breath After Open Heart Surgery?

Sometimes, you may experience shortness of breath for a few days, and sometimes, even for a month. If you are an asthma patient or have COPD, i.e., Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, this shortness of breath post-surgery is natural and expected. In such a case, you may experience it for much longer.

Studies show that shortness of breath after open heart surgery may remain for about four to six months or even more! But they are most common soon after the surgery and resolve within a few weeks.

In case you do not have a  preexisting health condition and the shortness of breath escalates for a long, there can be another underlying health complication, and you need to consult a doctor shortly.

What Helps Reduce Shortness Of Breath After Open Heart Surgery?

Adopting a few self-care strategies can help you reduce shortness of breath after open heart surgery. Such strategies are as follows!

  • Pursuing breathing exercises every day for at least thirty minutes can help reduce shortness of breath after open heart surgery.
  • Keeping supplemental oxygen and breathing aids at home can help reduce shortness of breath post-surgery, especially in emergencies.
  • Cardiac rehabilitation, which entails education on heart health, risk management, light exercises like walking, diet & nutrition, and emotional support, can help reduce shortness of breath after open heart surgeries.

Concluding Thoughts:

So, are you now clear about what causes shortness of breath after open heart surgery, how long that lasts, and in what ways you can minimize it? I hope the blog served its purpose! If you have more queries on open heart surgeries, feel free to leave a message at We shall get back to you with the appropriate solution as soon as possible!

Become a member

Get the latest news right in your inbox. We never spam!


About author
Hi, I’m Alka Tiwari, healthcare marketer at HealthFinder. I started this blog to help you provide better healthcare information directly from the doctors.
View all posts (79)
0 0 votes
Article Rating
Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

[…] the latest and most advanced methods in medical science can serve as salient replacements for risky open heart surgeries, especially for those patients who are not healthy enough to pursue surgery. In fact, these […]

Alka Tiwari

Alka Tiwari
Typically replies within few minutes

Alka Tiwari
Hi there 👋

How can I help you?
Chat with Us