If you’ve been told you or a loved one need heart surgery, you might be wondering exactly what that means. For most of us, our first thoughts are of open heart surgery—and the long recovery time it requires. But for many people, minimally invasive heart surgery presents a welcome alternative. Before you and your doctor decide on the best course of action for you, learn about your options.
What Is Open Heart Surgery?
Technically, “open heart surgery” refers to any surgical cardiac procedure in which the chest is surgically opened. This approach can be used to correct problems in the:
- Heart muscle
- Other related structures
The heart itself may or may not be “opened” during this form of surgery. In traditional open heart surgery, the heart is actually stopped and a machine (called a heart-lung machine) does its work while the surgeon performs the procedure.
This type of surgery requires a 6- to 8-inch incision in the chest and may involve temporary placement of a pacemaker to help regulate your heartbeat. You’ll likely remain in the hospital for four to eight days after open heart surgery, and it may take at least five to eight weeks for you to recover.
Although every case is individual, open heart surgery is best for people who need multiple coronary artery bypass procedures, complex aortic procedures and complicated cardiac operations, or people who have had heart surgery in the past.
What About Minimally Invasive Heart Surgery?
In minimally invasive (robotic) heart surgery, your surgeon will make one or more small incisions between your ribs. Then, surgical instruments—along with a tiny camera—are inserted through the incision. The surgical tools are connected to robotic arms that the surgeon controls with a computerized device. This allows him or her to better manipulate the instruments and perform the procedure more precisely.
Minimally invasive (robotic) heart surgery can be used for several different cardiac procedures, including:
- Coronary bypass
- Valve surgery
- Aneurysm repair
Because it involves a smaller incision, minimally invasive heart surgery can have a number of benefits for patients. These include:
- Less pain
- Less scarring
- Shorter hospital stays after surgery
- Lower risk of infection and bleeding
- Shorter recovery time
People who undergo minimally invasive heart surgery usually return home two to five days after the procedure. In general, it takes between one and four weeks to recover from this form of surgery.
Your surgeon will factor in your age, medical history, general health, and specific heart concerns to decide which type of surgery is best for you.