Are Cough Pillows Actually Useful?

Post heart transplant patient with their I Heart Guts I Got the Beat Plush Pillow

If you’ve ever experienced a sternotomy procedure, then you’re probably familiar with a cough pillow, aka heart/ cardiac pillow, aka therapeutic pillow. Whatever it’s called, they’re often given to post-procedure patients with the intent of relieving pain and providing support when the patient coughs or sneezes-- essential to keeping the lungs clear and for preventing pneumonia.

uterus surgery plushie

Many medical professionals will instruct the patient to hug the pillow over the incision to relieve pain. This practice has been taught since chest and abdominal surgeries first debuted, but with so many technological advances since then, is it time we go back to the drawing board on this one? Are cough pillows really as effective as we once thought?

liver surgery pillow

The jury’s out on that one: patients will tell you they are and cough pillow sellers will tell you they SUPER are. That being said, the rate of post-sternotomy complications has been pretty much the same for the last few decades. And with no scientific evidence, could it be that cough pillows are effective from a psychological standpoint more than a physical one? Linda, an open-heart surgery patient, commented on Qualiteam to say that she believes it’s both: “I had open heart surgery in April of 2018. As the hospital no longer provided [cough pillows], my daughter purchased one for me in the gift shop. It was very therapeutic for me, help me with whatever pain I was going through, plus emotionally helped me a something to hug and feel better.”

pancreas surgery pillow

Some of our own customers agree that cough pillows can bring a great deal of comfort, both emotionally and physically. Raenell M. writes that she got our I Got the Beat Heart Plush as a cough pillow for her mom which was a hit with her doctors as well: “My mom had a heart procedure done and really needed a pillow for recovery. I could not resist this heart pillow; we have a great sense of humor. The doctor loved it too and asked where I got it. He thought they would be good to give heart patients after surgery especially children because of the size. The pillow is just the right size for my mom, it is super soft, and is small enough to drag around in her purse to all of her appointments. This was a huge hit in the cardio dept. at the hospital.”

heart surgery pillow, stuffed anatomical heart pillow

Are cardiac pillows beneficial to a swift physical recovery? Maybe, maybe not; no scientific evidence has definitively pointed for or against them. But if it brings at least emotional comfort to post-op patients, well that’s all the evidence we need.


You can find more information on the effectiveness of cough pillows on these articles:

Qualiteam: Where is the Clinical Evidence for the Use of Heart Pillows?
VeryWellHealth: Why is it Important to Cough After Surgery?
My Health Alberta: Deep Breathing, Coughing, and Moving After Surgery

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