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What Is Pediatric Cardiothoracic Surgery?

By C. Mitchell
Updated May 17, 2024
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Pediatric cardiothoracic surgery is a medical field that focuses on heart and lung surgery in infants, children, and adolescents. Most of the time, pediatric cardiothoracic surgery is its own medical specialty. Doctors must train differently to work on the growing hearts of children than to work on fully developed adult organs.

Cardiothoracic surgery, whether adult or child-oriented, concerns both the heart and the lungs: in essence, it is surgery of the chest and all organs and blood vessels therein. The cardiothoracic surgery specialty is most popular in the United States, the United Kingdom, and Australia. Most other countries entertain separate cardiac surgery and thoracic surgery specialties. A pediatric cardiothoracic surgeon, therefore, is likely to be found in only a limited number of hospitals worldwide.

The main thrust of most pediatric cardiothoracic surgery programs is to fix and treat heart defects and conditions in children through surgery. Surgery on children is often much riskier than surgery on adults, particularly where the heart is concerned. Depending on the age of the patient, the heart’s valves, arteries, and connecting tissues are not always completely developed. Operating usually takes a lot of care, precision, and special tools that require extensive training to master.

In order to become a pediatric cardiothoracic surgeon, a doctor must usually complete a battery of educational and experiential training. After receiving a medical degree, he or she must generally do rotations in pediatric medicine, general surgery, and cardiothoracic surgery. A fellowship in pediatric cardiothoracics is usually an asset. From start to finish, getting a pediatric cardiothoracic surgery fellowship can take upwards of ten years.

If heart defects are caught at an early age, there is a chance that surgery could fix the problem so that the heart will continue to grow in a healthy way. While heart problems in children can be among the scariest, when addressed properly, they can also be some of the brightest looking cases. Surgical procedures can often correct abnormalities in such a way that the heart really will, with time, fix itself.

In this respect, pediatric cardiothoracic surgery is different from traditional cardiothoracic surgery, as would be performed on adults. With adults, heart surgery is usually aimed at repairing damage and mitigating consequences. Curing heart problems outright is usually impossible once the heart is fully grown.

The heart problems children have are often also different from the heart problems of adults. Congenital defects and deformities that develop in the growing hearts of children can, in many ways, defy the boundaries of known conditions. As a result, the pediatric cardiothoracic surgery field is often on the cutting edge of medical breakthroughs, research, and discoveries.

WiseGEEK is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.

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