Heart Surgery | Types & Recovery | Medstar Health

Expertise in a range of traditional and minimally invasive procedures

Heart surgery is an option to treat many heart conditions. You may need surgery as a lifesaving procedure, along with another cardiac therapy, or when other treatments haven’t worked. Our expert heart surgeons and team provide a range of heart procedures, from relatively simple options to highly complex and challenging procedures.

Our cardiac surgery program has some of the best outcomes for heart surgery nationwide. We’re one of the area’s busiest centers for surgery because so many patients trust us with their care. Having helped create and test many procedures that are now used by heart surgeons everywhere, our doctors continue to be on the leading edge of this area of medicine. Heart surgery services are located in Washington D.C., and Baltimore, Maryland.

Types of heart surgery

Many types of heart procedures have been developed to treat various cardiovascular conditions. Depending on your condition and your anatomy, procedures may be performed open, minimally invasive, or robotic. Our surgeons perform many complex heart procedures, including:

Coronary artery bypass graft (CABG)

Coronary artery bypass graft surgery (CABG, pronounced “cabbage”), also known as heart bypass surgery, is the most common heart surgery, with some 200,000 CABG procedures performed in the U.S. each year. CABG uses healthy blood vessel(s) to bypass the blocked part of the coronary artery(ies) to create normal blood flow to the heart.

MedStar Health’s cardiac surgeons perform nearly half of CABG procedures as off-pump bypass surgery, also known as beating-heart bypass, by utilizing special tools to stabilize a portion of the heart to allow it to keep beating while bypassing the blocked artery.

Learn More About CABG


Heart valve repair or replacement

Heart valve surgery is a procedure to treat heart valve disease. The expert surgeons in our Structural Heart and Valvular Disease Program use advanced, minimally invasive methods to repair or replace heart valves that are not working correctly and to improve heart valve function. Your cardiac surgeon may recommend one of the following surgeries, depending on your pathology and what is causing the problem:

  • Aortic valve repair and replacement, including transcatheter aortic valve replacement (TAVR)
  • Mitral valve disease treatments, including the MitraClip® procedure and mitral valvuloplasty
  • Procedures to treat tricuspid valve disease, including tricuspid valve surgery and transcather tricuspid valve replacement
  • Percutaneous valve treatments
  • Procedures to treat pulmonary valve disease, including pulmonary valve repair and replacement and balloon valvuloplasty

Learn More About Heart Valve Treatments


Aneurysm repair

An aneurysm is defined as a bulge or "ballooning" (enlarging and thinning) of a weakened area of a blood vessel. While small aneurysms can be managed with medication and regular monitoring, larger aneurysms or those causing pain or other symptoms may need surgery to prevent the blood vessel from rupturing. The experts in our Vascular and Endovascular Program and our Cardiac Surgery Program treat all types of aneurysms and offer particular expertise for challenging cases. Your surgeon may recommend one of the following aneurysm repair procedures:

  • Endovascular repair
  • Traditional open aneurysm surgery
  • Hybrid aneurysm repair

Learn More About Aneurysm Repair Surgery


Insertion of cardiac devices to restore heart rhythm

Many heart arrhythmias, also known as heart rhythm disorders, do not require treatment at all. However, if you are experiencing significant symptoms or if you are at risk for developing more serious heart conditions due to your arrhythmia, your doctor may recommend an implantable device for ongoing control of your heart rhythm condition, including:

  • Pacemaker, which is used primarily to treat heart rhythms that are too slow
  • Biventricular pacemaker, used in cardiac resynchronization therapy to keep the heart’s chambers pumping together in patients with heart failure.
  • Implantable cardioverter-defibrillators (ICDs), which monitor your heart for fast or irregular heartbeats and treat them to restore a normal heartbeat.

Learn More About Arrhythmia Treatments


Surgical treatment for atrial fibrillation (AFib)

Atrial fibrillation, or AFib, is the most common type of arrhythmia. The goal of AFib treatment is to limit symptoms through heart rate control or efforts to reset the heart’s rhythm. If medication and lifestyle management cannot control your AFib, your physician may recommend a surgical procedure that creates a pattern, or maze, of scar tissue in the heart to disrupt faulty electrical signals causing your abnormal heart rhythm. Two types of surgical procedures designed to treat abnormal heart rhythm are:

Convergent Procedure for Atrial Fibrillation (Hybrid Procedure) is a minimally invasive surgical procedure where the cardiac surgeon makes a small chest incision and creates scar tissue on the exterior of the epicardium. An electrophysiologist then inserts a device through the arm or groin to perform a catheter ablation on the interior of the epicardium.

Learn More About Convergent Procedure

Heart Surgery for Atrial Fibrillation (MAZE) is an open-heart surgery procedure where the chest is opened, and the patient is put on a heart-lung machine. The surgeon will create a pattern of scar tissue using a scalpel or a cardiac ablation device.

Learn More About MAZE


Surgical procedures for heart failure

More serious cases of heart failure may need advanced treatment, including surgery. The expert surgeons in our Advanced Heart Failure Program are renowned for their innovations to improve surgical treatment options and quality of care for heart failure patients. Your doctor will work with you find the best surgical options for your condition. Types of heart failure surgery include:

  • Implantation of a left ventricular assist device (LVAD), which helps circulate the blood with a small pump
  • Heart transplant, the replacement of a severely diseased heart with a healthier one
  • Placement of devices such as implantable cardioverter defibrillators (ICDs) or pacemakers may be used to regulate or start your heart using electrical pulses.
  • Coronary artery bypass surgery (CABG)
  • Heart valve surgery

Learn More About Heart Failure Treatments and Surgery


Septal myectomy

Septal myectomy is the surgical removal of excess heart muscle. Your doctor may recommend this procedure if you have been diagnosed with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy and medication or less invasive treatments have not relieved your symptoms.

Learn More About Septal Myectomy


Aortic dissection surgery

Aortic dissection is a serious and sometimes fatal condition, but the vascular and cardiac surgery experts in our Complex Aortic Center work together to repair even the most complex tears to the lining of the aorta, including a minimally invasive approach called endovascular repair.

Learn More About Aortic Dissection Surgery


Robotic heart surgery

Robotic cardiac surgery is an innovative approach that incorporates the latest minimally invasive surgical techniques for low- and high-risk patients diagnosed with mitral and tricuspid valve conditions, atrial fibrillation, and cardiac tumors.

Learn More About Robotic Heart Surgery


Minimally invasive heart surgery

The experts in our Cardiac Surgery Program are trained in a full range of minimally invasive procedures, which allow for smaller incisions, lower risks of complications, and shorter recovery time.

Learn More About Minimally Invasive Heart Surgery

Our locations

Distance from Change locationEnter your location

MedStar Union Memorial Hospital

201 E. University Pkwy.
Baltimore, MD 21218

MedStar Washington Hospital Center

110 Irving St. NW
Washington, DC 20010

Benefits and risks of heart surgery

Your cardiac surgeon will explain the risks and benefits of your treatment options with you, as they will vary depending on your particular condition.

The benefits of heart surgery can include:

  • Bypass of blocked coronary arteries to restore blood flow to the heart.
  • Repair or replacement of heart valves to restore their normal function.
  • Correct abnormal heart rhythms.
  • Repair aneurysms to prevent rupture of blood vessels.
  • Treat advanced heart failure by implanting a ventricular assist device or a heart transplant.
  • Repair congenital heart defects.

Risks of heart surgery vary depending on the type of procedure, whether the surgery is planned or an emergency, and your overall health. Some of the risks of surgery include bleeding, blood clots, infections, irregular heartbeats, pneumonia, and death.

Patients may have increased risk of postoperative complications if they have coronary artery disease, a previous heart attack, heart failure, diabetes, aortic stenosis, kidney disease, lung disease, and or older than age 70.

How to prepare for heart surgery

Your heart surgeon will provide you with specific steps to follow to prepare for the type of surgery scheduled. You can make healthy choices, such as getting enough sleep, getting adequate exercise, eating well, and quit smoking, prior to surgery which can help your operation go smoother and speed up recovery.

What to expect during heart surgery

Your experience will be depending on the type of procedure performed and your overall health. The following frequently asked questions provide a general overview of the cardiac surgery inpatient hospital experience at MedStar Health.

Frequently asked questions (FAQs)

  • When should I arrive at the hospital?

    MedStar Washington Hospital Center
    If you are not told what time to arrive at the hospital on the day of your surgery, please call 202-877-7464 for Medstar Washington Hospital Center between 3 and 4p.m. If your surgery is on a Monday, please call the Friday before.  If you do not contact anyone, please arrive at the hospital by 5 a.m. on Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday and 6 a.m. on Tuesday. 

    MedStar Union Memorial Hospital
    If you are scheduled for surgery at 7am, please arrive at 5:30am. If you are scheduled for surgery at 8am, please arrive at 6am. If your surgery is scheduled for a different time, please plan to arrive 2 hours before your scheduled time. For any questions, please contact 410-554-6550.
  • What are the surgery prep instructions the night before surgery?

    MedStar Washington Hospital Center ONLY
    The night before surgery use the bowel prep provided to you during your pre-surgery visit.  Repeat if necessary, as it is important to have a bowel movement before surgery.  To help prevent infections, shower with the Chlorhexidine soap provided during your pre-surgery visit.  Do not eat or drink anything after midnight, the night before your surgery.
  • What are the surgery prep instructions the day of surgery?

    Take a shower with soap and water and apply the Chlorhexidine soap from your neck to your toes and leave it on for two minutes before rinsing off.  Do not use lotion, powder, perfume, or deodorant.  Do not wear contact lens.
  • What should I bring with me to the hospital?

    Leave jewelry, including all rings, watches, money, and other valuables at home.  Bring your insurance cards and photo ID.  Take only the medications indicated by your provider.  Do not bring all of your medication with you since they will be provided to you at the hospital.
  • What happens the morning of surgery?

    If you are arriving the morning of surgery, proceed to the admissions area for Cardiac Surgery.  After your registration and processing is complete, you and your family will be directed to the surgical area.  After your surgery, you will be cared for the Cardiovascular ICU.  Your family may visit your after you have been evaluated by your healthcare team. 
  • Who are the operating room team members?

    The cardiac surgeon is the team leader who performs your surgery.  The anesthesiologist is the surgical team member who administers the medication and general anesthesia that allow you to sleep during the surgery. The anesthesiologists will also place devices to monitor your vital signs during surgery and administer medication.  The circulating nurse is the primary nurse in the operating room.  Before your   operation, the circulating nurse will interview you and review your chart following specific guidelines developed by the hospital.  The cardiac surgeon’s primary assistant is the surgical assistant.  The scrub nurse, or certified surgical assistant prepares the sterile instruments, equipment and supplies that are needed for your surgery.  During the operation, your heart and lungs may be supported by a heart-lung machine.  The perfusionist is responsible for this machine. 
  • Will I have a blood transfusion during surgery?

    Blood transfusions may be needed to correct a medical condition or to replace blood lost during surgery.  Your health team will discuss ways to minimize blood loss during surgery and explain any details regarding blood transfusion. 
  • Where am I taken after surgery?

    Immediately after surgery, you will be taken to the Cardiovascular ICU where patients spend a minimum overnight. Your vital signs will be monitored as you wake up from anesthesia.  You will have a breathing tube in place, which means you will be unable to speak.  As you continue to recover, the breathing tube will be removed, and you will be able to speak.  Later in the evening, your nurse will help your sit on the side of the bed, and you will start using your incentive spirometer, as simple device to help you breathe better. 
  • Who are the patient care team members?

    Patient care is provided by a team of physicians, nurses, physician assistants, nurse practitioners, dietitians, physical therapists, occupational therapists, care manager, diabetes educator, respiratory therapists, and cardiac rehab specialists.  IMOC or Interdisciplinary Model of Care that describes how various members of the healthcare team collaborate to provide care for patients and families to achieve excellent outcomes.
  • How is pain controlled during my hospital stay?

    Pain is your body’s normal response to any discomfort or procedure.  With today’s pain treatments, patients can work with their nurses and doctors before and after any procedure to relieve your pain.  Your care team will frequently ask your pain level on a scale of 0-10.  Reporting your pain as a number helps the doctors and nurses know how well your treatment in working and whether to make any changes to control your pain.
  • What happens the days following surgery?

    When you are well enough to leave the Cardiovascular ICU, you will be moved to a cardiac surgery patient care unit.  Your cardiac surgeon and nurse practitioner will have early morning rounds on all patients.  Every morning a team of nurse practitioners, case managers, patient care manager and nurses will round on you to discuss your care plan including barriers to discharge and your anticipated date of discharge.  You will be given a detailed overview of your daily hospital activities during your pre-surgical visit. 
  • Can I have visitors during my hospital stary?

    Visitors are welcome consistent with COVID 19 guidelines in effect during your hospital stay. There is a phone outside the ICU which will allow you to find out if you can visit your family member. At MedStar Washington Hospital Center, family members and close friends are permitted to visit, two at a time, between 9 a.m. and 9 p.m.  At MedStar Union Memorial Hospital, family members and close friends are permitted to visit, two at a time, between 11 a.m. and 8:30 p.m.
  • What is the hospital discharge plan?

    Most patients stay in the hospital three to five days, or up to a week after surgery. The discharge planning begins once you have been transferred to the cardiac care unit. The patient care team will speak to you and your family about your needs at discharge. There are three typical discharge plans: home to family and friends; home with services, such as a visiting nurse, physical and/or occupational therapist; or to a rehabilitation facility.
  • How long does it take to recover after surgery?

    Recovery time is dependent on your specific surgery.  It takes about six weeks to recover from most surgeries.
  • Will I need cardiac rehabilitation after I leave the hospital?

    Cardiac rehabilitation begins during your hospital stay.  Your care team will advise you about continuing your rehabilitation process after discharge.
  • Ask MHVI

    Have questions about our heart and vascular program? Email us at AskMHVI@medstar.net

What to expect after heart surgery

Patients who have undergone coronary artery bypass graft (CABG) surgery will have a recovery that can take up to 12 weeks. Recovery times from other heart surgery procedures will vary. Most people can return to light activities such as walking, cooking, washing dishes, and stair climbing after they are discharged from the hospital and can resume normal activities after 10-12 weeks.

After your heart procedure, your doctor may prescribe cardiac rehabilitation as part of your recovery. In addition to helping you build your strength back up after surgery, cardiac rehab can help you lower the risk of future heart problems by helping you live a healthy lifestyle.

Learn More

Types of tests for heart surgery patients

Cardiac catheterization

Cardiac catheterization is a minimally invasive way to diagnose and treat a variety of heart and vascular conditions by guiding thin, flexible tubes called catheters through blood vessels to problem areas.

Computerized tomography (CT) scan

The cardiac computed tomography scan, or cardiac CT, uses x-rays to create three-dimensional images of your heart and blood vessels.

Echocardiogram

An echocardiogram uses high-frequency sound waves to create images of your heart.

Electrocardiogram (ECG)

An electrocardiogram, also known as an ECG, measures the heart’s electrical activity.

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)

Magnetic resonance imaging, better known as cardiac MRI, is a combination of radio waves, magnets and computer technology to create images of your heart and blood vessels.

Stress tests

Stress tests are used to assess how your heart works during physical activity. There are several types of stress tests, including treadmill or bike stress tests, nuclear stress tests, stress echocardiograms and chemically induced stress tests.

Ask MedStar Heart & Vascular Institute

Have general questions for our heart and vascular program? Email us at AskMHVI@medstar.net. If you have clinically-specific questions, please contact your physician’s office.