Open Heart Surgery

Posted October 8, 2022 by Anusha ‐ 3 min read

Open-heart surgeries treat heart problems including heart failure, congenital heart defects, arrhythmias, aneurysms and coronary artery disease. During the procedure, a surgeon cuts through the breastbone and spreads the ribcage to access the heart.

Open-heart surgery

  • Heart surgery is a procedure to treat heart problems.

  • Open-heart surgery is one way surgeons can reach the heart.

  • Open-heart surgery requires opening the chest wall to make the heart easier for the surgeon to reach.

  • To access the heart, surgeons cut through the sternum (breastbone) and spread the ribs.

  • Sometimes people call this cracking the chest.

  • Open-heart surgery is a reliable way for surgeons to perform heart surgery.

  • Your surgeon may recommend an open procedure if you are strong enough to tolerate it.

  • It’s possible to do many kinds of heart surgery through smaller, less invasive incisions, including small incisions between the ribs on the right side of the chest.

Types of Open-heart surgery

There are two ways to perform open-heart surgery:


  • A heart-lung bypass machine connects to the heart and temporarily takes over for the heart and lungs.

  • It circulates blood through the body while moving blood away from the heart.

  • The surgeon then operates on a heart that isn’t beating and doesn’t have blood flow.

  • After surgery, the surgeon disconnects the device and the heart starts to work again.


  • Off-pump bypass surgery takes place on a heart that continues to beat on its own.

  • This approach only works for coronary artery bypass grafting (CABG) surgery (bypass surgery).

  • Your surgeon may call this beating-heart surgery.

What happens before Open-heart surgery?

Before open-heart surgery, you can expect to have:

  • Chest X-rays, an electrocardiogram (EKG) or other tests to help the surgeon plan the procedure.

  • Your chest shaved.

  • Sterilization of the surgical area with antimicrobial (bacteria-killing) soap.

  • An intravenous line (IV) in your arm to provide fluids and medications.

What happens during Open-heart surgery?

Heart surgery is complex. Some surgeries may take six hours or longer. You will receive anesthesia and be asleep during the procedure.

Surgery steps vary depending on the heart condition and procedure. In general, your surgeon:

  • Makes a 6- to 8-inch long incision down the middle of your chest.

  • Cuts the breastbone and spreads your ribcage apart to reach your heart.

  • Connects the heart to a heart-lung bypass machine, if you’ll have an on-pump surgery.

  • An anesthesiologist gives IV medication to stop your heart from beating and monitors you during the surgery.

  • Repairs your heart.

  • Restores blood flow to your heart. Usually, your heart starts beating on its own. Sometimes, the heart needs a mild electrical shock to restart it.

  • Disconnects the heart-lung bypass machine.

  • Closes the breastbone or other incision with wires or sutures that remain in your body.

  • Uses stitches to close the skin incision.

What happens after Open-heart surgery?

  • Depending on the procedure, you may stay in the hospital intensive care unit (ICU) for a day or longer.

  • When you’re ready, you will move to a regular hospital room.

  • You can expect to stay several days in the hospital.

  • Your heart care team will explain how to care for your incision.

  • You may have a special firm pillow to protect your chest when you cough, sneeze or get out of bed.

Risks of Open-heart surgery

Surgery risks include:

  • Allergic reaction to anesthesia.

  • Arrhythmias (irregular heartbeat).

  • Bleeding.

  • Damage to surrounding blood vessels or organs like the lungs or kidneys.

  • Infections.

  • Stroke.

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