Heart surgery is done to correct problems with the heart. More than half a million heart surgeries are done each year in the United States for a variety of heart problems.
Heart surgery is used to correct heart problems in children and adults. This answer specifically discusses heart surgeries for adults.
The most common type of heart surgery for adults is coronary artery bypass grafting (CABG). During CABG, surgeons use healthy arteries or veins taken from another part of the body to bypass (that is, go around) blocked arteries. CABG relieves chest pain and reduces the risk of heart attack.
Heart surgery also is done to:
- Repair or replace valves that control blood flow through the heart
- Repair abnormal or damaged structures in the heart
- Implant medical devices that regulate heart rhythms or blood flow
- Replace a damaged heart with a healthy heart from a donor (heart transplant)
Traditional heart surgery, often called "open heart surgery," is done by opening the chest wall to operate on the heart. Almost always, the chest is opened by cutting through a patient's breastbone. Once the heart is exposed, the patient is connected to a heart-lung bypass machine. The machine takes over the pumping action of the heart. This allows surgeons to operate on a still heart.
In recent years, new ways of doing heart surgery have been developed. One new way is called off-pump, or beating heart, surgery. It's like traditional open-heart surgery, but it doesn't use a heart-lung bypass machine.
This answer from the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute has been reviewed and/or edited by Dr. William D. Knopf.