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1. What Is a Cardiac Surgeon?
A cardiac surgeon is a physician who provides surgical treatment for diseases of the cardiovascular system. To become a cardiac surgeon, after graduating medical school, a doctor usually completes a general surgery residency program. This is followed by fellowship training in cardiac or cardiothoracic surgery. Additional specialization may be done in heart transplant surgery, adult cardiac surgery, or pediatric cardiac surgery. Cardiothoracic surgeons may also specialize in thoracic surgery, which focuses on surgical management of diseases of the lungs, esophagus, and other chest organs, other than the heart.
Cardiac surgeons perform surgery on the heart and large blood vessels for conditions including coronary artery disease, heart failure, heart rhythm disorders (arrhythmias), heart valve defects, atrial or ventricular septal defects, aortic aneurysm, congenital heart defects, pericarditis, cardiomyopathies, and others.
Your primary care doctor, cardiologist, or other specialist will usually refer you to a cardiac surgeon who will perform a surgery to treat your heart condition when lifestyle modifications, medicines, and other medical treatments are not working for you. You can consult cardiac surgeon online as well. Cardiac surgeons work closely with cardiologists, anesthesiologists, electrophysiologists, and perfusionists as a surgical team.
2. When Should I See a Cardiac Surgeon?
Your cardiologist, family doctor, or other specialists will refer you to a cardiac surgeon if you have a heart disease that requires surgical intervention. Symptoms that indicate you may have a heart problem include:
• Chest pain or discomfort
• Pain in forearm, jaw, neck, or upper back
• Swelling in your ankles or legs
• Shortness of breath
• Fainting, dizziness, lightheadedness
• Weakness, fatigue
• Fast or uneven heartbeats (heart palpitations)
3. What Kinds of Tests Does a Cardiac Surgeon Perform or Recommend?
Before surgery, the cardiac surgeon may ask for one or more of the following tests:
• Electrocardiography (ECG)
• Stress test
• Holter and event monitoring
• Echocardiography including transesophageal echocardiography, and Doppler ultrasound
• Intracardiac electrophysiology study (EPS)
• Coronary angiography
• Other imaging including cardiac CT scan, cardiac MRI, chest x-ray, PET scan
• Lung function tests
• Cardiac catheterization
• Blood tests
• Urine tests
• Myocardial biopsy
4. What Kinds of Procedures Does a Cardiac Surgeon Perform or Recommend?
Cardiac surgeons perform surgical procedures such as:
• Bypass surgery (Coronary artery bypass graft, CABG)
• Heart transplant
• Heart valve repair or replacement
• Atrial or ventricular septal defect repair
• Aortic stenosis repair
• Carotid endarterectomy
• Angioplasty or percutaneous coronary intervention
• Transmyocardial laser revascularization (TMR)
• Minimally invasive cardiac surgery
• Radiofrequency ablation
• Maze surgery
• Cardiac implantation of devices such ventricular assist device (VAD), pacemaker, or implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD)
• Valvular surgery
5. What Questions Should I Ask a Cardiac Surgeon?
You may want to ask a cardiac surgeon these kinds of questions:
• What is my condition? How serious is my condition? What are the complications of my condition?
• What are the best treatment options for my condition? Am I a suitable candidate for heart surgery?
• What exactly happens during this type of surgical treatment? What are the risks?
• Are there any alternatives to this treatment? How soon should I get this surgery? Will there be consequences if I delay my surgery?
• What is the success rate of this treatment? What happens if this treatment does not work?
• How many other people with the same condition have you operated on? What was their outcome?
• How should I prepare myself mentally and physically for the surgery?
• What kind of anesthesia will I receive?
• Does this surgery need blood transfusions? Can I donate my own blood?
• How long will I be staying at the hospital? How long will my recovery take?
• What should I expect after the surgery? Will there be a need of cardiac rehab?
• How big is my scar going to be?
• Will this device need to be replaced in the future?
• What diet do you recommend? What else can I do to improve my chances of recovery? How can I lower my risk for complications post-surgery?
• What activities do I have to avoid during recovery?
• How much rest will I need? When will I be able to resume daily activities, going to work, drive car, or have sex? Will they worsen my condition?
• How can I reduce my risk if I have a family history of heart problems?
• Are my family members at risk too? Should they be checked?
• Can I take this medication with my other medications, diet, or supplements?
• What symptoms should I be watchful for?