In a prospective observational pilot study on patients undergoing elective cardiac surgery with cardiopulmonary bypass, we evaluated label-free quantitative phase imaging (QPI) with digital holographic microscopy (DHM) to describe perioperative inflammation by changes in biophysical cell properties of lymphocytes and monocytes. Blood samples from 25 patients were investigated prior to cardiac surgery and postoperatively at day 1, 3 and 6. Biophysical and morphological cell parameters accessible with DHM, such as cell volume, refractive index, dry mass, and cell shape related form factor, were acquired and compared to common flow cytometric blood cell markers of inflammation and selected routine laboratory parameters. In all examined patients, cardiac surgery induced an acute inflammatory response as indicated by changes in routine laboratory parameters and flow cytometric cell markers. DHM results were associated with routine laboratory and flow cytometric data and correlated with complications in the postoperative course. In a subgroup analysis, patients were classified according to the inflammation related C-reactive protein (CRP) level, treatment with epinephrine and the occurrence of postoperative complications. Patients with regular courses, without epinephrine treatment and with low CRP values showed a postoperative lymphocyte volume increase. In contrast, the group of patients with increased CRP levels indicated an even further enlarged lymphocyte volume, while for the groups of epinephrine treated patients and patients with complicative courses, no postoperative lymphocyte volume changes were detected. In summary, the study demonstrates the capability of DHM to describe biophysical cell parameters of perioperative lymphocytes and monocytes changes in cardiac surgery patients. The pattern of correlations between biophysical DHM data and laboratory parameters, flow cytometric cell markers, and the postoperative course exemplify DHM as a promising diagnostic tool for a characterization of inflammatory processes and course of disease.