Your heart and how it works
The heart is a muscular pump. The right side of the heart receives blood from the body and pumps it to the lungs, where the blood picks up oxygen that you have breathed in. The left side of the heart receives this oxygen-rich blood from the lungs and pumps it to all parts of the body. This is a continuous process.
Reasons for needing heart surgery
Coronary Artery Disease
The heart muscle (myocardium) receives its blood supply from the coronary arteries. Sometimes these arteries can become narrowed where fatty deposits are gradually laid down inside them. This is known as coronary artery disease or atherosclerosis.
As the coronary artery becomes narrowed, the blood supply to the myocardium is decreased. When demand for oxygen-rich blood is greater than the supply, angina pain arises from the muscle.
If the coronary artery becomes completely blocked, usually by a blood clot where the artery is narrowed, a heart attack (myocardial infarction) occurs.
The narrowing of your artery will be identified by a coronary angiogram investigation, performed by your Cardiologist.
A Coronary Artery Bypass Graft (CABG) operation can be carried out to relieve angina and reduce your risk of having future heart attacks.
During the CABG operation extra blood vessels are sewn to your narrowed arteries to ‘bypass’ the narrowed area and bring blood to your heart muscle. There are ‘spare’ arteries inside the chest wall and the forearm, and spare veins in the legs which can safely be removed. All these can be used to construct excellent bypass grafts.
Bypass surgery for coronary artery disease is very effective. Most patients find that their angina goes away completely following surgery, and some patients experience improved function of the heart muscle.
Heart Valve Disease
The heart pumps blood continuously around the body. Within the heart are four valves that ensure that the blood flows the right way. Sometimes one or more valves can become damaged or diseased. They may not open properly and obstruct the blood flow (valve stenosis) or they may not close properly allowing blood to leak back (regurgitation or incompetence).
These problems place an increased strain on the heart. They are often recognised by tiredness and/or breathlessness when you exercise, although sometimes there are no symptoms, but a heart murmur may be heard by the doctor. Without treatment the heart muscle can become permanently damaged.
The most common valves to be affected are the aortic and mitral valves. The affected valves are either replaced or repaired.
If you are having an operation on your heart valve it is very important that your teeth and gums are healthy. This is because infected teeth and gums can cause the new heart valve to become infected. Please ensure that you see a dentist regularly – we will have already asked your dentist for information about your dental treatment. Your operation may be delayed if you need dental treatment as this will need to be carried out before your operation.
Some patients need both valve and coronary artery bypass graft surgery at the same time.
The average stay in hospital following heart surgery is 5 – 10 days. However this stay may be a short as 4 – 5 days depending on your recovery.
The following diagram represents the total number of cardiovascular procedures performed at the Essex Cardiothoracic Centre since opening in July 2007.
As a measure of success all patients are risk stratified for mortality purposes. The system used throughout Europe is Euroscore and this predicts each patient’s risk of not surviving surgery.
For each surgery performed the Centre establishes the average predicted Euroscore as its benchmark and aims to out performagainst this.