Some heart problems require repairs that can only be made through heart surgery. These repairs may be needed immediately, such as after a severe heart attack, or they may be delayed for months or years. And repairs may be made in a single surgical procedure, or a series of operations may be needed. It all depends on the type and severity of the heart problem and how sick a person is.
If you’ve been told by your doctor that surgery is required for your heart condition, your medical team will include specialists with the training and expertise needed for your particular condition and surgery. Your medical team may include a heart surgeon, an anesthesiologist, heart-lung pump technologists, surgical nurses and technicians, and intensive care doctors and nurses.
Types of heart surgery
There are several different types of heart surgery, including the following:
- Open-heart surgery – The term “open heart” is used to describe any heart surgery that involves opening up the chest to expose the heart, using a heart-lung machine to maintain blood circulation throughout the body, and stopping the heart. An example of open-heart surgery is coronary artery bypass (CABG) surgery.
- Heart transplant surgery – This surgery replaces a damaged or failing heart with a healthy heart from a recently deceased donor. Recipients of this surgery have heart failure.
- Heart valve repair or replacement surgery – This type repairs or replaces faulty heart valves. This surgery is used to treat heart valve disease.
- Minimally invasive surgery – The term “minimally invasive” is used to describe a range of newer CABG surgery techniques, including those that don’t use a heart-lung machine (“off pump”) and surgeries with smaller incisions.
- Insertion of implantable devices – This surgery implants assistive devices in the body to help improve the heart’s pumping ability. An example of an implantable device is a pacemaker.
Conditions that heart surgery treats
Heart surgery can treat a wide range of heart conditions, including the following:
- Coronary artery disease (CAD) or “heart disease” – CAD occurs when the blood vessels that carry oxygen-rich blood to your heart muscle become narrowed and hardened due to the buildup of plaque (fatty deposits in between the layers of the wall of the artery), which leads to atherosclerosis (narrowing and less elasticity of the blood vessels) that can cause a heart attack. CAD can be treated by CABG.
- Heart valve disease – Heart valve disease occurs when there’s any abnormality or dysfunction in one or more of the heart valves, which causes the heart to work harder to compensate for the faulty valves. This can weaken your heart, putting it and your other organs at risk. Heart valve disease can be treated with heart valve repair or replacement surgery.
- Arrhythmias – An arrhythmia is an irregular heart heartbeat. An example of an arrhythmia is atrial fibrillation (Afib), an irregular heartbeat caused by an abnormal heart rhythm that makes the upper heart chambers (the atria) quiver. An arrhythmia can be treated with an implantable device like a pacemaker.
- Heart failure – Heart failure is a serious condition in which the heart muscle isn’t able to pump enough blood to meet the body’s needs for oxygen and nutrients that are delivered by the bloodstream. Heart failure can be treated with an implantable device, such as a mechanical pump or a heart transplant.
- Congenital heart disease (CHD) – Congenital heart disease (CHD) is a birth defect of the heart that’s present at birth. It happens when something in the heart or the connecting blood vessels doesn’t form properly as the fetus grows and develops during pregnancy. A type of surgery used to treat some CHD defects is the Fontan procedure, which is used to reroute blood flow from the lower body to the lungs.