The Disadvantages of Minimally Invasive Heart Surgery

disadvantages of minimally invasive heart surgery

Minimally invasive heart surgery offers many advantages, but also some drawbacks. Surgeons must possess specialized training and use high-end medical equipment for this procedure to be successful.

Unfortunately, these drawbacks may mean minimally invasive heart surgery isn’t suitable for everyone. Only you and your doctor can decide if this type of procedure is right for you.

Less pain

Minimally invasive heart surgery is an alternative to traditional open-heart surgery that uses smaller incisions to reach the heart. This approach may be employed to repair a heart valve, implant a device or remove a tumor.

Many patients find minimally invasive procedures offer a shorter hospital stay and faster recovery than open-heart surgeries. Furthermore, they require less blood loss, are less likely to cause complications, and ultimately result in healthier outcomes for you.

You may be eligible for minimally invasive heart surgery if you have certain conditions, such as severe aortic stenosis or regurgitation (leaking). In this condition, the aortic valve doesn’t open fully, allowing some blood to leak back into your heart instead of out to your body.

When having a minimally invasive aortic valve replacement, an incision between your ribs on the left side of your chest is made. This is where a video camera is inserted to assist your surgeon’s work.

The doctor then uses specialized surgical instruments to create a bypass around the blocked coronary arteries, allowing blood to flow normally through your heart. Typically, the incision measures 3 to 5 inches long (7.5 to 12.5 centimeters).

In most cases, you’ll spend one or two days in a cardiac critical care unit before returning home for rest and recuperation. You will be monitored 24 hours a day and encouraged to move as much as possible during your hospital stay. A respiratory therapist may teach you breathing and coughing exercises to keep your lungs clear during recovery.

Less bleeding

Minimally invasive heart surgery is an alternative to traditional open heart surgery, utilizing fewer incisions and allowing your surgeon easier access to your heart.

Compared to traditional heart surgery, minimally invasive procedures offer lower complication rates and shorter hospital stays. Furthermore, they are more cost-effective.

However, minimally invasive approaches have their drawbacks as well. For instance, a surgical cut in the chest to access your heart (sternotomy) makes it harder for surgeons to view your heart from a close range.

Other advantages of minimally invasive heart surgery include reduced pain and blood loss during the procedure. These advantages can reduce recovery time and enable you to return to regular activities more quickly.

Your surgeon may suggest minimally invasive heart surgery to address various conditions. If you qualify, they will discuss the potential risks and advantages with you.

For instance, during mitral valve repair or replacement surgery, your surgeon uses a robot to make one or more small incisions in your chest. The robot then displays clear images of your heart while you control its arms to complete the procedure.

The use of minimally invasive surgery for aortic valve surgery has seen an uptick in popularity due to the desire to bring the advantages of minimally invasive cardiothoracic surgery to cardiac operations. This trend has also been spurred on by advances in perfusion techniques, refinements to transesophageal echocardiography, and the advancement of specialized surgical tools and robotic technology.

Less blood loss

Minimally invasive heart surgery utilizes smaller incisions to access your heart, instead of the large incisions required by open-heart surgery. As a result, it’s typically less painful and has a faster recovery time than traditional open-heart surgery.

Surgeons can repair your heart, replace a heart valve, implant a device, or remove tumors through small incisions between the ribs. They may also utilize robotic arms for this procedure.

Percutaneous Coronary Intervention (PCI): This technique opens blocked arteries that impede or restrict blood flow to your heart. Your surgeon inserts a deflated balloon attached to a catheter through an incision in your chest between your ribs, guided by X-ray technology and contrast dye into the blocked artery.

Robot-assisted heart surgery: Your surgeon operates the robotic arms from a distant console that displays clear images of your heart. The robots perform the same maneuvers used in traditional open-heart surgery, while another surgeon and team provide assistance at the operating table.

Mitral Valve Repair/Replacement: When your mitral valve (located between your left atrium and left ventricle) malfunctions, it may thicken or become stiff. In minimally invasive mitral valve surgery, your surgeon can repair or replace this valve through a small incision on your chest.

In certain instances, surgeons can perform minimally invasive aortic valve replacement through a small incision and partial sternotomy. They may also repair an aortic aneurysm with endovascular stent-graft placement.

Less risk of infection

In many cases, minimally invasive heart surgery is a more suitable alternative than open heart surgery. However, there are some drawbacks to consider before opting for this type of procedure.

For instance, it can be more challenging for your surgeon to gain a clear view of your heart during certain surgeries such as complex thoracic aneurysm repairs or certain types of valve replacement surgery.

Additionally, due to the potential risk of bleeding, a small incision may not be sufficient for making an effective repair. In such cases, surgeons may need to resort to more traditional techniques.

Minimally invasive heart surgery offers several advantages, such as a shorter hospital stay and decreased risk of wound infection. It may even be more tolerable for some individuals with chronic pain issues or those who are elderly.

Another disadvantage is the longer recovery period after surgery. To ensure a speedy recovery, avoid strenuous activities like lifting heavy objects or working while on bed rest during this time.

If you’re thinking about minimally invasive heart surgery, your doctor and treatment team will thoroughly explain all the advantages and potential risks to you. They also assist in deciding if this type of procedure is suitable for you.

Less time in the hospital

Minimally invasive heart surgery requires your surgeon to make one or more small incisions in your chest (incisions). Through these incisions, they insert high-powered cameras, tools, or robotic arms into your heart for access.

Your surgeon at UT Southwestern can repair your heart, replace a valve, insert a device, or remove a tumor. We are one of only a few centers in the US that offers minimally invasive heart surgery.

Minimally invasive heart surgery offers several advantages, such as reduced pain and faster healing times for smaller scars that are much less noticeable than traditional scars. Furthermore, these procedures often reduce the risk of post-surgical complications and infections.

Minimally invasive heart surgery may also be more cost-effective than open-heart surgeries. In most cases, patients who undergo minimally invasive heart surgery recover quickly and experience a shorter hospital stay than those requiring open-heart surgery.

Most patients with aortic stenosis or regurgitation are suitable for minimally invasive aortic valve replacement. In this procedure, a surgeon makes a 3- to 5-inch (7.5 to 12.5 centimeters) cut in your left chest between your ribs, connecting you to a heart-lung machine that functions as both your heart and lungs during surgery. They then remove your old aortic heart valve and insert its replacement with an artificial one; after which, you will remain in the intensive care unit (ICU) or hospital for one to two days following the operation.

Less risk of heart failure

Minimally invasive procedures are less stressful on the body than open heart surgery, and they reduce the chance of infection or bleeding.

Minimally invasive heart surgery includes robot-assisted heart surgery, and thoracoscopic surgery, and directs less invasive access (direct less invasive access) through a small incision in the chest. With all types of minimally invasive cardiac surgery, your surgeon makes a few small incisions between your ribs on each side and inserts a tool with a video camera to view your body.

Surgeons can also utilize this approach to repair a heart valve such as the mitral or aortic. To view and repair the heart valve, surgeons use a long tube called a thoracoscope; then, they use long, thin instruments.

The downside of minimally invasive heart surgery is that you won’t be able to breathe normally during the procedure. You’ll be placed on a heart-lung bypass machine while the surgeon performs the operation.

Another potential drawback of minimally invasive heart surgery is that it’s not suitable for everyone. Your doctor and team will carefully evaluate you before determining if or not you qualify for this type of operation.

Your doctor may suggest trying nonsurgical treatments before considering surgery. These may include medications, lifestyle modifications, and some minor surgical procedures. Surgical procedures may only be suggested when other methods have failed or your physician believes they will provide the greatest benefit to you.


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