Heart Disease: Heart Surgery

Apr 13, 2016

Heart Disease: Heart Surgery

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Coronary artery disease (CAD) is the most common type of heart disease in the United States, and unfortunately for some people, there is no sign of CAD until they suffer a heart attack.

What is Cardiovascular Disease?

Heart disease is directly related to a process called atherosclerosis. To put it simply, atherosclerosis develops when plaque builds up along the walls of the arteries, making it harder for blood to flow.

When the heart muscle doesn’t receive enough blood, there may be symptoms of chest pain and discomfort present. This pain or discomfort is called angina, which is the most common symptom of coronary artery disease.

Over time, CAD can weaken the heart muscle and possibly result in heart failure. Other serious conditions such as arrhythmia, or an irregular heartbeat, can also develop.

Diagnosing Heart Disease

To diagnose CAD, a doctor will check your blood pressure, cholesterol, and sugar levels. It is also common to use the following techniques for a CAD diagnosis:

  • EKG (Electrocardiogram)
  • Stress testing
  • Echocardiology
  • Chest X-ray
  • Blood tests

Heart Surgery Also Helps:

  • Repair or replace heart valves
  • Repair damaged areas of the heart
  • Implant devices to help the heart beat properly
  • Replace a damaged heart with a donated heart

All About Heart Surgery 

Preparation for Heart Surgery

  • Hospital admission: You will most likely be admitted to the hospital the afternoon before the operation.
  • Routine procedures: Electrocardiograms (ECG or EKG) and chest X-rays are common tests before surgery
  • Hair shaving: Removing hair from the operation site will make the skin easier to clean to reduce the risk of infection.

Open Heart Surgery Risks

  • Infection
  • Heart attack or stroke
  • Lung or kidney failure
  • Memory loss
  • Blood loss/clotting
  • Difficulty breathing

What Happens During Heart Surgery?

  • During coronary artery bypass grafting (CABG), the healthy artery or vein is attached to the blocked artery. During this surgery, the heart muscle, valves, arteries, or other parts of the heart are cut open.
  • Heart-lung machines are commonly used in heart surgery, assisting surgeons by sending oxygen-rich blood to the brain and other organs while the surgeon works on the heart.
  • Typically, an incision 5-8 inches in the chest wall is made, and that opening is used to open the breast bone with a surgical saw during valve and bypass surgery. For endoscopic surgery, 1-4 small cuts in the chest will suffice.

What Happens After Heart Surgery?

When you wake up from surgery, there may be some initial feelings of confusion. Be warned that your wrists may be strapped down, but this is only to eliminate the chance of pulling out any important tubes and wires.

These tubes and wires are used to check vital signs such as heart rate, blood pressure, and breathing. There may be a tube in your mouth and throat to help breathing, which you cannot talk with.

After a few hours have passed, close family members can visit in the ICU for brief periods. Families should expect to see many tubes, wires, and monitors—and even a puffy, paler version of you.

Long-Term Outlook for Open Heart Surgery

The recovery from open-heart surgery is a gradual one. Initially, it may take six weeks to feel normal again. However, surgery is not a once and done cure-all for artery blockage. There are other health guidelines that should be followed such as:

  • Eating a healthy diet
  • Cutting back on foods high in salt, fat, and sugar
  • Not smoking
  • Controlling cholesterol
  • Monitoring high blood pressure
  • Leading an active lifestyle
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Frequently Asked Questions

My father was recently diagnosed with heart disease. What are some not-for-profit organizations that I can join to help raise awareness of heart disease?

The most popular not-for-profit that focuses on heart disease is the American Heart Association. Their mission is to build healthier lives, free of cardiovascular diseases and stroke. However, other not-for-profits include: The Heart Foundation, Children’s Heart Foundation, and One Million Hearts, a byproduct of the Department of Health and Human Services.

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What is the most common heart disease in senior citizens?

The most common heart disease in senior citizens is coronary artery disease. It’s caused by the narrowing and/or blockage of blood vessels that supply the heart. For more information on coronary artery disease or other heart diseases, check out World Heart Federation’s list of heart diseases.

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