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Home » For Patients » FAQs » Risks Associated with Heart Surgery

Risks Associated with Heart Surgery

As with any other surgical procedure, there is a degree of risk. The majority of patients undergoing heart surgery have successful procedure and recover with little difficulty. A few will have minor problems and a small proportion may suffer quite significantly.

Chest Infections

This is normal after major heart surgery. The infection can be so mild, you may not even notice. Some patients experience some shortness of breath and a slight fever. Physiotherapy or antibiotics can be used as treatment. Chest infections usually resolve a few days after the operation.

Irregular Heartbeats (Atrial Fibrillation)

Some patients may experience palpitations at some stage after their operation. Patients may feel as if their heart is racing or pounding. If drugs do not work after a few days, we may consider electrical treatment. This is not an emergency procedure the patient should worry about. Irregular Heartbeats are more common in older patients, patients who have had a previous heart attack and patients who have had surgery on their Mitral valve (valve which lies between the left atrium and left ventricle).


This is very common after surgery and at worst, it can last for 2-3 days.


Some degree of bleeding after heart surgery is inevitable. Patients usually bleed between 300-1500 mls in the first twelve hours. If bleeding is excessive, we return the patient to the operating theatre to remove any blood clots that may be preventing the heart from beating efficiently.

Aortic Valve Surgery 3-5%
Mitral Valve Surgery 6%
Major Aortic Surgery 10%

Kidney Failure

The kidneys excrete the body’s toxic waste products. If they are failing or not functioning properly, the level of toxins in the blood rises. Any operation will disturb the kidney’s sensitive mechanisms for a while. If the kidneys shut down completely, a kidney machine (dialysis unit) is utilised in the Coronary Care Unit.

Wound Infections

Minor wound infections are common following coronary surgery. However, chest wound infections must be treated very seriously as this type of infection can spread into the chest around the heart. The chance of this happening is less than 2%. An aggressive antibiotic regime is a necessary part of the treatment. Most patients who contract this kind of infection will require one of more additional operations to clean the wound.


All cardiac surgery carries the risk of a stroke (brain damage). This may seriously affect mobility and speech. This disability may be temporary after surgery but about 2% of patients may be left with a permanent disability. The risk increases with age and more complex operations.

CABG 1-2%
Aortic Valve Surgery 1-2%
Mitral Valve Surgery 2-3%
Major Aortic Surgery 10%
Heart Valve & Coronary Bypass Surgery 6%
AGE (YEARS) RISK OF A STROKE (based on UK Statistics)
< 60 1%
60-69 2%
70-79 3%
80 or over 8-10%


Some patients may experience a slower than normal heart rate while they recover from surgery. This is commonly treated by connecting the heart to a temporary pacemaker until the heart recovers fully. 1 – 2% of patients who have undergone aortic or Mitral valve surgery may require a permanent pacemaker.

Blood Transfusion Risks

A patient may require blood during or after surgery. At ACI we adhere to strict controls to monitor all blood being administered and ensure that safe practice according to set standards is maintained at all times. At ACI, we practice conservative blood management which results in fewer blood transfusions.

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