Open Heart Surgery: Types, What to Expect, Recovery

SSM Health’s heart surgeons perform some of the most advanced procedures in the medical industry. Our experienced professionals specialize in open heart surgeries that most effectively treat heart conditions, while minimizing your recovery time and maximizing the best possible outcomes. 

During open heart surgery, the chest, including the breast bone, is cut open to expose the heart. This incision is usually eight to 10 inches long, depending on the specific procedure, and gives surgeons direct access to the heart. Since this is how most heart surgeries have been performed for decades, open heart surgery is also known as traditional heart surgery.

Types of Open Heart Surgeries We Perform

Although new techniques, such as laparoscopic or minimally invasive procedures, have emerged, open heart surgery is still performed regularly. Open heart procedures include:

  • Repairing or replacing heart valves
  • Repairing damaged or abnormal areas of the heart
  • Implanting medical devices such as a pacemaker
  • Transplanting a new heart

Coronary Artery Bypass Grafting

Coronary artery bypass grafting (CABG) is the most common type of open heart surgery performed on adults today. This procedure is often used for patients suffering from coronary heart disease and atherosclerosis. Using a revascularization process, a portion of a healthy blood vessel from elsewhere in the body is used to create a new path around the blocked part of a blood vessel. This restores the flow of oxygen and nutrients to the once deprived heart.

Off-Pump CABG

Some patients may benefit from a newer surgical technique that allows the heart to continue beating during CABG surgery. Off-pump or “beating heart” bypass surgery can reduce complications and reduce the need for blood transfusions in certain patients. SSM Health’s heart and vascular surgeons are leaders in off-pump bypass surgery, performing the procedure at rates twice that of the national average.

What to Expect from Open Heart Surgery

During and after your surgery, you’ll be watched closely by our doctors and nurses and monitored by several devices. Immediately after your surgery, you’ll be taken to one of our Intensive Care Units (ICU) for close observation. This attentive care will help you recover safely and quickly. Your stay may last for several days, depending on the specifics of your surgery and the time needed for proper healing. 

Recovering from Open Heart Surgery

Expect your initial recovery from open heart surgery to take 6-8 weeks. When you are released from the hospital, your health care team will provide detailed instructions about the things you can do at home to help you on your road to recovery. These may include:

  • When and how much activity is appropriate
  • How to perform breathing therapy
  • If there are certain foods you should avoid
  • How much water you need
  • Whether/how long you should wear compression stockings after surgery
  • How to bathe while your incision heals
  • When to expect your stitches to be removed

Once you return home, it’s important to try and get back to a normal routine. This sense of normalcy will keep you alert, active and help your body properly heal. Don’t hesitate to call your healthcare team if you have questions once you are home.

As with any surgery, there are certain risks involved with open heart surgery. However, the benefits far outweigh the risks for those suffering from heart damage. Make an appointment with SSM Health heart and vascular specialist today for a consultation to determine the best plan of care for your heart disease.

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