What are the Most Common Heart Surgery Complications?

Caitlin Shih

Every patient is susceptible to a handful of minor heart surgery complications, usually occurring in the aftermath of the operation. These include nausea, painful scarring or minor bleeding, among others. More seriously, the most common heart surgery complications are stroke, heart attack and graft failure. While these more severe difficulties, in general, do not occur as often as the minor, more widespread aftereffects, different circumstances can increase the risk of these complications for different patients. Other major heart surgery complications include possible kidney and lung problems.

Heart surgery complications may include a heart attack.
Heart surgery complications may include a heart attack.

On a minimally harmful level, patients who have already undergone the operation successfully may experience nausea, vomiting or an allergic reaction to the latex or dressings on their wounds. The incisions created for the surgery may lead to minor bleeding, bruising or infection, and the scarring process can be painful for some patients. Heart surgery patients should in all cases clean their wounds properly and on a regular basis to prevent any unnecessary disruption of the healing process.

Surgeons who perform heart procedures typically train for a minimum of 14 years.
Surgeons who perform heart procedures typically train for a minimum of 14 years.

A stroke occurs when a blockage in the arteries prevents adequate blood supply from reaching the brain, causing the destruction of brain cells and, in some cases, permanent brain damage. During heart surgery, this can occur if a section of plaque or diseased blood vessel breaks off during the procedure and travels to the brain. Though rare, when briefing patients pre-surgery, most physicians will include stroke in their list of possible heart surgery complications because of the seriousness of the condition.

Heart surgery complications include kidney problems which may require dialysis.
Heart surgery complications include kidney problems which may require dialysis.

Heart attack is another viable, serious complication associated with heart surgery. The heart will be under greater stress due to the operation and will require a higher oxygen and blood supply. If an artery is too narrow or is blocked in some way, it can cause areas of the heart to be deprived of oxygen. Eventually, the heart muscle will die if left deprived long enough, leading to heart attack.

Common heart surgery complications include possible kidney and lung problems.
Common heart surgery complications include possible kidney and lung problems.

Graft failure applies to those whose heart surgery included the use of bypass grafts. Over time, these grafts can close up, causing a relapse of the very condition the operation was needed to treat, and the second, repeat operation is often more difficult with lower success rates. Patients heighten their risks of graft failure if they have untreated high cholesterol or continue smoking after surgery.

A scalpel is a small, sharp knife that is used in surgeries to make incisions.
A scalpel is a small, sharp knife that is used in surgeries to make incisions.

Lung and kidney problems as a result of heart surgery are generally not life-threatening, and most cases are temporary. Some patients may contract pneumonia or acquire fluid buildup in their lungs as a result of the surgery, but most of these cases are essentially harmless and involve only a alteration in breathing apparatus. Likewise, most kidney problems are mild and will normally disappear on their own within a week. In more serious cases, these complications may require breathing tubes during the operation or chronic dialysis for those who suffer from kidney failure.

Heart surgery complications typically occur shortly after the operation.
Heart surgery complications typically occur shortly after the operation.
During heart surgery, the heart will undergo great stress and will require a higher oxygen and blood supply.
During heart surgery, the heart will undergo great stress and will require a higher oxygen and blood supply.

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