4 Tips to Lower Risk When You Need Heart Surgery

Talk to your doctor about your chance of complications

4 Tips to Cutting Risk When You Need Heart Surgery

Contributor: Faisal Bakaeen, MD

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Heart surgery today is safer than it has ever been. With a growing number of minimally invasive procedures and other technological advancements, we are increasingly confident about surgical outcomes. But with any surgery, it is important to understand your risk before the procedure.

Though most heart surgery is safe, there are potential risks. They include infection, fever, pneumonia, heart attack, stroke, arrhythmia (abnormal heartbeat), memory loss and blood clots.

What can you do to reduce your risk for these problems? First, be aware and talk to your doctor. Second, control whatever risk factors you can to support a good outcome.

What you can do to improve your outcome

You have a lot of control over chances of complications related to other health conditions. Managing whatever risk factors you can is important.

Take these steps:

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  1. Lose weight. Patients who are overweight have a higher risk of infection after surgery, so we often encourage diet and exercise before surgery. You may need to drop some weight quickly to prepare for surgery. Talk with your physician about how much to lose and how quickly you need to do it.
  2. Don’t smoke. If you smoke, stopping before surgery is important as well. Smoking increases the risk of complications after surgery. It also can increase the likelihood that you’ll need another surgery down the road.
  3. Manage diabetes. If you have diabetes, it’s important to get your blood glucose levels under control before surgery. Keeping the condition in check reduces the risk of renal complications, future surgeries, long hospital stays and other complications.
  4. Limit alcoholic drinks. A final change to make before heart surgery is to watch how much alcohol you consume. If you drink heavily (more than three drinks a day), your physician may have you reduce intake before surgery.

The best way to gauge your risk of complications after heart surgery is to talk with your doctor. We can help you determine where you stand and create a plan to reduce the likelihood of problems.

Minimally invasive surgery

The less invasive the procedure is, the less is the associated blood loss and the faster the recovery. The overall risk also may decrease with less-invasive options.

Minimally invasive surgery involves smaller incisions (sometimes keyhole in size) with or without the use of robotics or the heart-lung machine.

Examples of such procedures include mini sternotomy valve repair or surgery and right mini thoracotomy valve surgery.

Other less invasive procedures include wire-based intervention such as transcatheter aortic valve replacement, transcatheter mitral valve repair or replacement, and coronary artery stenting.

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Factors that can complicate heart surgery

Other factors can contribute to your outcome after heart surgery. These include:

Advanced age —  Studies show that those over the age of 80 have a slightly higher risk of kidney failure, stroke and in-hospital death prior to major heart surgery.

Emergency or previous surgeries — You are at higher risk if you have emergency surgery or if you have had heart surgery before.

Other illnesses — Some medical problems can greatly increase your risk of complications as well. These include:

  • Diabetes
  • Kidney disease
  • Obesity
  • Hypertension
  • Emphysema
  • Peripheral artery disease

When it comes to heart surgery, it is helpful to focus on two things: One is making the changes that you can to support the best outcome. The other is growing your knowledge about the procedure so you are mentally prepared.

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