June 22, 2021

What is Open-Heart Surgery?

Open-heart surgery is a type of cardiac surgery performed on the heart when the patient is placed on a heart-lung bypass machine. While the heart-lung bypass machine replaces the functions of the heart and lungs, the children’s heart doctor (or pediatric cardiac surgeon) can operate on the heart. To operate on the heart, it needs to stop working for some time. This is done using a cardioplegic solution. This is a cold solution containing high amounts of potassium. This solution protects the heart during the procedure as well.

When the heart is stopped for the procedure, it provides a clear, bloodless field for the surgeon to operate on. In some cases, the heart can be operated upon even while beating but is emptied.

When Does a Child Need Open-Heart Surgery?

Open-heart surgery is performed in children to repair heart defects or defects in the blood vessels outside the heart. Some conditions when an open-heart surgery is recommended are:

  • To repair atrial septal defects
  • To repair ventricular septal defects
  • AV Canals
  • Tetralogy of Fallot
  • Heart artery transposition
  • Treating a heart injury
  • Repairing any holes in the heart
  • During heart or lung problems
  • Some signs that a child might need an open-heart surgery include:
  • Hypoxia (when there is insufficient oxygen in the blood) leads to cyanosis, a condition where the skin, lips, and nail beds turn bluish-grey.
  • Irregular or abnormal heart rate or rhythm
  • Recurrent congestion of fluid accumulation in the lungs
  • Slow or retarded growth and development in the child
  • Poor feeding and sleeping

Is Open-Heart Surgery in Children a Long-Term Procedure?

Though the risks associated with open-heart surgery in children are similar to those in adults, these surgeries are a new gift of life to the child and their parents. Many parents wonder if open-heart surgery for their child is a long-term procedure. The success of an open heart procedure in a child depends mainly upon why the procedure is being done and the type of defect being repaired.

Septal defects (both atrial and ventricular septal defects) have a very high success rate with nearly 0% mortality. Some slightly more complex procedures such as AV canal defects and tetralogy of Fallot carry a risk of less than 5%. As the complexity of the condition and procedure increases, the associated risk level increases. Most of the defects that are treated using open-heart surgery are long-term and do not require surgery to revisit the condition. Many children recover completely and lead normal lives after a successful open-heart surgery.

What Measures Should You Take Post-Surgery?

These surgeries are usually performed in a Children’s Hospital Cardiology section. Since an open-heart surgery is an extensive procedure, a child is usually monitored in the ICU for 2 to 4 days after the surgery. They might need around a week in the hospital after their ICU stay to enable proper recovery. Once the child is home, they will need at least three to four weeks of rest, and sometimes more.

Pain is normal during the recovery period, and the child will be prescribed medications to help them recover quickly. Some precautions and measures to take when the child is recovering at home following an open-heart surgery are:

  • Keep the child calm and from crying for too long (in the case of infants and toddlers), especially in infants.
  • The child should avoid any strenuous activity. It is common to see toddlers and older kids stopping activity if they get too tired.
  • Parents and caregivers must not lift the child by the arms and armpits. It is recommended to the child carefully, preventing any stress on the operated area.
  • Monitor the child’s diet and follow the instructions given by the healthcare provider about what the child can and should eat.
  • Keep the wound clean and monitor it for any signs of infection.
  • Monitor your child and prevent them from raising their hands above their head for 6 to 8 weeks after surgery.
  • Ensure that the child is not performing any activity that involves pushing, pulling, or lifting heavyweights in the first 6 to 8 weeks of their recovery period
  • The child must visit their doctor for routine follow-ups.


Open-heart surgery in children is performed to repair any congenital defects in their heart or blood vessels and is needed to allow proper growth and development of the child. While some defects need to be repaired immediately after a child is born, others can be performed in older children. While in most cases, single open heart surgery is sufficient to repair the defect, in some cases, a series of surgeries may be needed.

If you are looking for a children’s heart doctor or a Pediatric Cardiothoracic Surgeon in Coimbatore for open-heart surgery for your child, visit the best hospital for pediatric heart surgery in your city!

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