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FAQ: Open Heart Surgery Print E-mail
Written by Eli Smith   
Friday, 30 October 2009

Open heart surgery describes any surgery that requires the heart to be cut open.

Who is a candidate for the procedure?
Anyone who has heart disease requiring surgery is a candidate for open heart surgery. This type of surgery may be necessary for any of these conditions:
- physical defects of the heart present at birth, known as congenital heart disease
- damaged or diseased heart valves
- severe heart disease requiring heart transplant
- severe blockages of the arteries of the heart requiring heart bypass surgery. Although the heart is not technically cut open for most bypass procedures, many experts consider this a form of open heart surgery.

A person must be healthy enough to withstand the stress of major surgery.

How is the procedure performed?
Open heart surgery is done with general anesthesia. This means that the person is put to sleep with medications and feels no pain during the surgery. He or she is put on an artificial breathing machine, or ventilator, during the surgery.

The chest area is first cleaned with an antibacterial soap. Next, an incision is made into the chest. Usually, the incision is made into the breastbone, or sternum. The heart is exposed.

The person must then be put on a heart-lung bypass machine. This involves special tubes that move blood around, or bypass, the heart. The blood is sent into a special machine that keeps the blood circulating and full of oxygen.

Once the person is connected to the bypass machine, the heart is cut open. The surgeon can then fix the heart problem. This may involve repairing a valve, sewing a defect closed, or bypassing blocked arteries.

When the problem is repaired, the heart is sewn shut. The person is taken off the heart-lung machine. Once the person's heart is working again to pump the blood, the chest incision can be closed. The person is taken off anesthesia and sent to the surgery recovery room.


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