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A cardiologist holds a stethoscope to check her patient's heart rate and rhythm.

What is open-heart surgery?

Open-heart surgery is an intensive procedure that requires opening the chest wall to allow surgeons to reach the heart more easily. This is done by cutting through the sternum and spreading the ribs.

Open-heart surgery is used to treat several conditions, including arrhythmias, atrial fibrillation, congenital heart defects, coronary artery disease, heart failure, heart valve disease, and thoracic aortic aneurysms.

What happens after open-heart surgery?

Recovering from open-heart surgery can take anywhere from six to 12 weeks, depending on the type of operation you had, your health condition prior to surgery, and any complications that may arise. Your surgeon will advise you on when you can return to work and resume normal activity.

Who is a candidate for open-heart surgery?

Open-heart surgery is an option for patients whose heart conditions have not improved with other approaches (medication, lifestyle changes, or non-invasive procedures) and whose physicians have deemed them strong enough to undergo the operation.

Are there different types of open-heart surgery?

  • On-pump open-heart surgery connects a heart-lung bypass machine to the heart. This machine circulates blood through the body, allowing surgeons to operate on a heart with no blood flow that is not beating. After the procedure, the device is removed and the heart begins pumping on its own again.
  • Off-pump open-heart surgery takes place on a heart that is beating on its own. This type of surgery only works with coronary artery bypass grafting surgery.

What are the risk factors for open-heart surgery?

  • Allergic reactions to anesthesia
  • Arrhythmias
  • Bleeding
  • Damage to surrounding blood vessels, the lungs, or kidneys
  • Infections
  • Stroke

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U.S. News & World Report

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