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Before Cardiac Surgery

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Know the Risks

Heart surgery is major surgery, and it carries risks. If the doctor has recommended surgery, that is because he believes the benefits in your case outweigh the risks. The risks of bypass or valve surgery include:

  • Breathing problems or other lung complications
  • Bleeding
  • Infection
  • Nerve injury, in the case of bypass surgery
  • Problems with your heart's rhythm, in the case of valve surgery, requiring a pacemaker or medications
  • Problems due to anticoagulant therapy, in the case of valve surgery
  • Heart attack, stroke, or death

Preparing for Surgery

  • If you smoke, stop immediately to improve your blood flow and breathing.
  • If you need dental work, it should be done prior to valve surgery. Dental procedures often allow bacteria to enter the bloodstream, which may cause infection around the new valve.
  • Tell your doctor what medications you're taking, especially aspirin or anticoagulants, and ask if you should stop them to avoid excessive bleeding during surgery.
  • Your anesthesiologist will talk with you about your medical history and explain how anesthesia will be given to keep you asleep and free of pain during surgery.
  • To prevent vomiting during surgery, don't eat or drink anything after midnight the night before surgery.
  • To help prevent infection, any chest hair will be shaved (depending on the surgery, your leg, arm, or groin hair may also be shaved or trimmed). You may also be asked to wash with an antibacterial soap.

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