Medical questions & health advice by board certified doctors
"Do people recovering from heart surgery cough often?"
My father, 66, just had an angioplasty, and now it seems like he's dealing with a persistent cough. Is this reason to worry? Could a surgery like this cause his cough?
Cough after heart surgery can have many different causes, all of which should be evaluated by the patient's primary care physician, cardiologist, or cardio-thoracic surgeon. Among all patients the three most common causes of a chronic cough are asthma, gastro-esophageal reflux disease (reflux of stomach contents into the mouth with or without heartburn) and post-nasal drip (constant drip of mucus from the sinuses down into the throat usually in the setting of allergies or a cold). Formal open-heart surgery, on the other hand, can cause a cough as a result of irritation of the phrenic nerve. The phrenic nerve is the nerve that comes off of the cervical (neck) portion of the spinal cord, courses down the chest where it runs over the pericardium (layer of tissue surrounding the heart), and innervates the diaphragm, controlling breathing and cough. Cardiac surgery can sometimes be complicated by irritation or damage to the phrenic nerve, causing cough or issues with breathing. However, it sounds like the patient had "angioplasty," which would be a catheter-based procedure (and not formal open-heart surgery). If this is the case, this is much less likely to have directly caused a cough. One concern is that despite angioplasty to open up the coronary arteries feeding the heart, the heart function is not fully normal and some fluid has backed up into the lungs (pulmonary edema), causing a cough. If the patient had true open-heart surgery, I would recommend evaluation by a cardiac surgeon. If he had only a catheter-based procedure I would recommend evaluation by a cardiologist for cough.
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