Heart Surgery

If you’ve been told you or a loved one needs heart surgery, you might be wondering exactly what that means. For most of us, our first thoughts are of open heart surgery — and a long recovery time. But for many people, minimally invasive heart surgery presents a welcome alternative.

Before you and your doctor choose the best course of action for you, learn about your options.

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What Is Open Heart Surgery?

Technically, “open heart surgery” refers to any cardiac procedure in which the chest is opened surgically. The heart itself may or may not be “opened” during this form of surgery.

This approach may be used to correct problems in the:

  • Arteries.
  • Heart muscle.
  • Valves.
  • Other related structures.

In traditional open heart surgery, the heart actually is stopped and the patient is connected to a heart-lung bypass machine. The machine does the work of the heart and lungs while the surgeon performs the procedure.

This type of operation 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 the operation. It may take at least five to eight weeks for you to recover.

Although every case is different, this type of surgery is best for people who:

  • Have a complex aortic issue requiring a complicated cardiac operation.
  • Have had heart surgery in the past.
  • Need multiple coronary artery bypass procedures.

What Is Minimally Invasive Heart Surgery?

In minimally invasive (robotic-assisted) 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(s).

The surgical tools are connected to robotic arms that the surgeon controls with a computerized device. This device enables the surgeon to manipulate the instruments and perform the procedure more precisely.

This minimally invasive procedure can be used for several different cardiac procedures, including:

  • Aneurysm repair
  • Coronary bypass
  • Valve surgery

Because it involves a smaller incision, it can have a number of benefits for patients. These include:

  • Less pain.
  • Less scarring.
  • Lower risk of infection and bleeding.
  • Shorter hospital stays after surgery.
  • 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.

To learn more about open heart and minimally invasive heart surgery treatment options, visit the UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute website.

Editor's Note: This article was originally published on , and was last reviewed on .

About Heart and Vascular Institute

The UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute has long been a leader in cardiovascular care, with a rich history in clinical research and innovation. As one of the first heart transplant centers in the country and as the developer of one of the first heart-assist devices, UPMC has contributed to advancing the field of cardiovascular medicine. We strive to provide the most advanced, cutting-edge care for our patients, treating both common and complex conditions. We also offer services that seek to improve the health of our communities, including heart screenings, free clinics, and heart health education. Find an expert near you.