When most people hear the words “open heart surgery,” it probably strikes fear into their… well, heart. While it’s true that open-heart surgery is still a major procedure not to be taken lightly, it’s probably a lot safer than you assume. Cardio Thoracic Surgeon; Dr. Jeffrey Morgan of Houston, Texas discusses the limitations.
If the only question you have is whether you’ll die during open-heart surgery, then keep in mind a study that shows a less than 3 per cent in-hospital mortality rate. However, there are some risks beyond the surgery as well.
There could be a variety of procedures that require open-heart surgery, ranging from heart transplants and left ventricle assist devices, which are both specialties of Dr. Jeffrey Morgan. There are also bypass surgeries and others that require skilled surgeons to access your chest cavity.
Dr. Jeffrey Morgan shares some data about risk factors and what to expect during and after a cardiac procedure.
While there are some minimally-invasive procedures that only require a smaller incision, open-heart surgery generally requires surgeons to make an incision that’s up to 10 inches in length along the middle of the chest to have full access to the heart.
There are two options for the surgical team: one of them allows your heart to continue beating on its own throughout. However, thanks to technology, there are now bypass machines that basically take over the function of the heart and lungs during the operation, even removing carbon dioxide and providing oxygen.
You’ll be completely unconscious from anesthesia during the procedure, so there’s no chance of discomfort. However, there will likely be some afterwards.
Like any surgery, there are some things that may not go as planned. For example, there’s always a risk of infection from the wound in your chest, which is higher if you have a condition such as diabetes.
Dr. Jeffrey Morgan states that strokes following cardiac surgery can also occur, and the risk of having one depends on the type of procedure being completed. However, it can rise even higher for procedures involving heart valves and for those with conditions that affect blood flow to the brain.
Keep in mind though that you’ll be put in intensive care for a time following the procedure, and you’ll be under the close watch of a cardiothoracic surgeon and health team. There you’ll be monitored for signs of trouble including irregular heartbeats and blood clots, which can contribute to strokes.
Other complications could include trouble breathing, lung or kidney failure, and even temporary memory loss.
That includes keeping a close eye on the incision site and making sure it’s dry (by avoiding a shower for a few days) and clean. You’ll likely also be instructed not to lift anything heavy, and to keep moving around. Pain management following surgery will be key, and the doctor may prescribe medication.
It can take weeks or months to start feeling like yourself again following open-heart surgery. But the bottom line is this: while there are some obvious risks both during the surgery and after, it’s clear that the benefits outweigh them. These operations by skilled professionals can increase your quality of life — or even save your life.