What is a cardiothoracic surgeon?
The cardiothoracic surgeon performed a type of specialized surgery that involves procedures on the organs of the chest, such as the heart, lungs, and esophagus. According to the Society of Thoracic Surgeons (STS), the term “cardiothoracic surgeons” is an inclusive term.
The terms “cardiac surgeon” and “thoracic surgeon” are interchangeable.
The cardiothoracic surgeon can be used to treat many conditions, including:
- Coronary artery disease (blockage of the arteries)
- Lung cancer
- Hyoid hernia
- Swallowing disorders
The cardiothoracic surgeon involves a variety of procedures, including open chest operations, laparoscopic procedures, and robot-assisted surgery.
Treatments are performed by a cardiothoracic surgeon
Coronary artery bypass graft (CABG): During this procedure, arteries or veins from other parts of the body join with the coronary arteries to relieve angina and reduce the risk of death from coronary artery disease. The grafts bypass narrow or clogged sections of arteries to improve the blood supply to the heart muscle.
This procedure can save lives in patients who do not have good candidates for percutaneous catheter techniques (coronary angioplasty and stenting) or ongoing medical treatment. The cardiothoracic surgeons can also perform minimally invasive and “off-pump” procedures (no cardiopulmonary bypass machine).
Mitral and aortic valve repair and replacement: Cardiothoracic surgeons are highly trained in the repair of blocked or leaking heart valves. The first option is always to preserve the local valve, but when the patient’s heart valve is severely damaged, the cardiothoracic surgeon use mechanical or tissue prostheses (including tissue implants from a human donor).
Cardiothoracic surgeons specialize in minimally invasive valve repair procedures that involve two to three-inch incisions rather than large chest incisions. For patients, these minimally invasive procedures provide an increased risk of infection, a faster recovery time, and less blood loss.
Nationally, studies have shown that only 50 percent of the mitral valves can be repaired.
Surgical treatment of aortic aneurysms and amputations: The walls of the aorta, the largest blood vessel in the body, can weaken and develop an aneurysm (dilation or bursa), leading to the rapture or rupture of the vessel walls, also known as rupture. Anyone could be a fatal emergency.
When an aneurysm or dissection is found on a chest x-ray, echocardiogram, or computed tomography (CT) scan, and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), cardiothoracic surgeons repair the damaged area with a special tissue graft (also known as a stent).
Cardiac support devices: The implantable tandem heart pump can also be used in patients with high-risk percutaneous coronary interventions (coronary angioplasty or stenting). This small semi-portable device can be inserted through the groin or into an artery during open-heart surgery.
Such implantable devices are in various stages of development and testing, but they provide temporary support for cardiac function and often save lives.
Lung and esophageal dissection: Both the esophagus and the lungs are affected by benign or malignant diseases that require surgical removal of damaged tissue. These procedures are less painful with very few incisions and can speed recovery time.
Radiofrequency ablation for atrial fibrillation: Atrial fibrillation is a normal but abnormal heart rhythm that causes a fast and irregular heartbeat. These heartbeats can cause discomfort and dizziness. If left untreated, patients are at increased risk of having a stroke.
Some patients can be treated with medications or catheter procedures, while others are resistant to these interventions. Cardiothoracic surgeons minimally invasive surgery on the surface of the heart with small incisions in radio frequency waves (modified electrical energy), creating precise scar lines to avoid transient electrical impulses that cause irregular heartbeats.
How is cardiothoracic surgery done?
Your surgical team will tailor it to your health needs and the type of surgery you are performing. Here are some common types of heart surgery:
- It keeps you awake and pain-free: The anesthesiologist will prescribe special medications to help you stay awake and pain-free during surgery.
- Keep the airways open: The endotracheal tube (ET) is inserted into your throat and windpipe and connected to the ventilator. The fan “flutters” while you sleep. There may also be an ET tube several hours after surgery to make sure you are breathing well.
- Reaching your heart: To obtain your heart, your surgeon will make an incision (cut) in the middle of your chest and separate your breastbone. After surgery, your surgeon will reattach your chest bones with wires or heavy stitches, followed by an incision.
- Maintains blood circulation: For open-heart surgeries, the heart stops during the surgery and restarts when the procedure is complete. A heart-lung bypass (pump) machine is needed to do the work of the heart and lungs during surgery. However, some heart surgeries can now be performed on a beating heart. In such cases, the procedure is performed “off-pump” without the use of a CPR machine.
What should I expect during recovery?
- Follow your doctor’s advice for pain control: Your neck may hurt and swallowing may be difficult. Your doctor can prescribe pain medication. Eating soft foods helps.
- Take all the medications prescribed by your doctor: It may contain an antiplatelet medicine (which helps prevent blood clots).
- Limit swelling and pain: For the first week, keep your head supported by pillows while you sleep to limit swelling.
- Don’t drive until your doctor says it’s okay.
- Limit strenuous activity for a few weeks: Don’t lift heavy objects and don’t exercise vigorously until your doctor says it’s okay. You can go back to work and go back to your normal activities when your doctor says it’s okay.
- Look for features: Pay attention to some changes in how you feel, especially neck swelling or headaches on the side where the procedure was performed. Tell your doctor if you notice any of the symptoms listed below.
- If you have a stroke: You may need additional treatment, such as medication or rehabilitation from a stroke. Ask your doctor or nurse about the Intermountain Life of Stroke Guide or TIA for more information.