Open heart surgery procedure

Open Heart Surgery: What to Expect

Open heart surgery is used for a variety of heart conditions that can’t be treated through any other surgical options. Because of the extremely invasive nature of open heart surgery, it can take a long time to recover. It’s important to be prepared before you walk into the doctors office. This not only allows you to better understand all the technical terms, but it can also save you time to ask questions that are more important to you. 

Before Surgery 

About two weeks before surgery, it’s important for the patient to stop smoking and not take any sort of blood thinning medication, like ibuprofen. Additionally, be prepared to bathe in a special antibacterial soap before surgery to decrease the risk of infection. No food or water is allowed for about 12 hours beforehand. Be sure to discuss any medications you take with your doctor as well. 

During Surgery

The procedure itself is relatively easy to explain, even if the types of surgery performed therein are a bit more complicated. After being anesthetized, the patient recieves a ten-inch incision through the chest and breastbone to allow the surgeon access to the heart. From there, whatever kind of necessary surgery is performed, which usually takes about four to six hours. A heart-lung bypass machine may be used to pull blood away from the heart so the doctor can do what needs done without constant blood pumping out of the heart, making it difficult to see and work. The breastbone is knitted back together with wire (or titanium plates, in high risk cases), and the incision of the skin is stitched up. 

After Surgery 

One night is spent in intensive care, followed by about a week in normal care. Once the patient is home, it takes about six weeks before a feeling of normalcy is regained. It can take up to six months for the surgery to actually start helping, depending on what sort of procedure it was. 

The overall outlook is good for open heart surgery patients, especially with more advanced medicine. A change in diet and lifestyle may be necessary to avoid recurrence of heart problems and additional surgeries. Quitting smoking, eating foods that aren’t full of fat, sugar, and salt, and incorporating more movement into your life will all help keep the heart healthier. 

Side Effects of Surgery

Regardless of the success of the procedure, there are still some serious risks that you have to look out for. Chest wound infections can be much more serious than the usual potential surgical infections. Additionally, use of a heart-lung bypass machine can increase an already present risk of stroke and problems with memory. Other potential side effects include blood clots, irregular heartbeats, heart attack, lung or kidney failure, chest pain, blood loss, trouble breathing, and a low-grade fever. 


Last Updated: August 21, 2015