The renowned specialists affiliated with the Memorial Hermann Heart & Vascular Institutes have extensive experience in open-heart surgery to treat complex cardiovascular conditions. Our innovative teams are at the forefront of developing and utilizing cutting-edge technology, committed to providing the best outcomes possible. We have a comprehensive surgical program, offering both traditional heart surgery and minimally invasive procedures to accommodate patients throughout Greater Houston.

What is Open-Heart Surgery?

Open-heart surgery is the traditional surgical method that involves making a large incision in the chest and cutting through the breastbone (sternum) to reach the heart. Open-heart surgery is used to treat a wide range of cardiovascular conditions, including coronary artery disease, heart-valve disease, heart arrhythmia, aneurysm and congenital (present at birth) heart defects.

Some patients are not strong or healthy enough to undergo open-heart surgery. In those cases, surgeons may recommend a minimally invasive surgical procedure instead.

Types of Open Heart Surgery

Open-heart surgery can be performed in different ways, depending on the patient’s individual health condition and surgical goals.

Coronary Artery Bypass Graft (CABG) Surgery

CABG procedures are used to correct restricted blood flow through a narrowed section of a heart artery. The cardiovascular arteries may be narrowed from a variety of causes, including plaque build-up. When blood cannot easily flow through the arteries, significant problems like heart attack may occur.

Coronary artery bypass grafting is used to redirect blood around a narrowed segment of a heart artery. During the procedure, a graft vein or artery is taken from a healthy blood vessel and surgically attached above and below the blocked artery. Blood will then flow through the graft vessel, bypassing the blocked vessel and allowing for adequate blood flow to the heart muscle.

During CABG, you will be connected to a heart-lung bypass machine. This machine allows the surgeon to adequately perform the procedure while the bypass machine takes over for the heart and lung function during surgery.

Off-Pump CABG Surgery

Off-pump CABG, also called “beating heart bypass surgery,” is another form of bypass surgery. Instead of stopping the heart, surgeons stabilize just the portion of the heart where the bypass is needed, while the remainder of the heart continues to function normally.

Heart-Valve Surgery

Heart-valve surgery is used to repair or replace diseased heart valves. There are two types of heart-valve surgery: valve repair and valve replacement. Surgeons will use the most conservative approach that will still accomplish the patient’s health goals. If it is not possible to repair a diseased heart valve, the surgeon may recommend valve replacement.

When is Open-Heart Surgery Needed?

Surgeons will assess the patient’s health status and the severity of their cardiovascular condition. Patients who are strong enough to tolerate an open-heart surgical procedure may be candidates for this traditional type of heart surgery.

If you have any of the following conditions, open-heart surgery may be recommended:

  • Coronary artery disease
  • Heart-valve disease
  • Heart failure
  • Aneurysm
  • Heart arrhythmia (including atrial fibrillation or “AFib”)
  • Congenital (present at birth) heart defects

What to Expect with Open-Heart Surgery

The details of heart surgery will vary, depending on the type of surgery and the patient’s health status. However, all open-heart surgeries are complex procedures. Here are the general steps you can expect with open-heart surgery:

You will receive general anesthesia so that you will not feel any pain or remember anything from your surgery.

The surgeon will make a large incision in your chest, cut open the breastbone and spread apart the rib cage in order to reach the heart. At this point, you will be placed on a heart-lung bypass machine that will take over your heart and breathing functions during the procedure.

Once the heart repair is complete, you will be taken off the bypass machine and your heart and lungs will resume functioning on their own. The breastbone will be reconnected, and the chest incision will be closed.

Risks and Side Effects of Open-Heart Surgery

Open-heart surgery is a complex procedure that has risks. If you have additional health problems like diabetes, obesity or pulmonary disease, you may be at additional risk of surgical complications.

Surgery risks include:

  • Bleeding
  • Infection
  • Damage to the heart
  • Development of arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat)
  • Stroke

Recovery from Open-Heart Surgery

Most patients stay in the intensive care unit (ICU) for at least one day before moving to a regular hospital room. Your stay in the hospital may last several days.

Each patient’s situation is different, so it is important to discuss your recovery expectations with your physician. It may take 2 to 3 months, or longer, before you are ready to resume normal activities. Your physician may recommend cardiac rehabilitation, an exercise program, to assist in your recovery and help regain strength.

Scheduling an Appointment

Open-heart surgery is a complex procedure that should be trusted to an experienced surgeon. The affiliated surgeons at Memorial Hermann Heart & Vascular Institutes can assess your condition to determine if open-heart surgery is right for you.

To learn more about cardiac surgery, including open-heart surgery, visit Find a Doctor to schedule an appointment.

Contact Us

If you have questions regarding the Memorial Hermann Heart & Vascular Institute, our cardiologists, or treatment facilities, please use our contact form below or call (713) 222-2273 for more information.

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