A heart surgeon is a physician who is specialised in performing surgery on the heart. They are experts in operating on the valves and structures of the heart, as well as the essential arteries that surround it. There are several subspecialties that cardiac surgeons can choose to pursue. However, general cardiothoracic surgeons concentrate on ailments in the upper abdomen’s organs, including the lungs, esophagus, and heart.

Cardiologists diagnose and treat cardiothoracic diseases and are not to be confused with cardiac surgeons. They are trained to perform diagnostic tests and help patients in treating various heart conditions. They may perform minor surgeries such as stent placement to keep arteries open. Most cardiologists will not perform extensive and invasive heart surgeries; they normally refer their patients to a cardiac surgeon once they deem that the condition would require surgery. That is when a cardiac surgeon is brought in. Surgeons will be in charge of what procedure to perform and closely monitor the patient’s condition.

Types of Cardiac Surgeons

  • Cardiothoracic surgeons, as the name implies, specialise in surgeries on the majority of the organs and tissues found in the chest. This can include operations on the heart and its major blood vessels, the respiratory system, the throat, and the windpipe. Some thoracic surgeons may scale back their practice and work only on issues on the heart, pericardium (a pouch surrounding the heart), and other significant blood vessels of the heart. Others may choose to concentrate on conditions other than just the heart and surrounding blood vessels. 
  • Paediatric heart surgeons care for newborns, children, and adolescents with complex congenital heart defects, structural problems, or deficiencies. Performing cardiac procedures on children is vastly different from adults and requires special care. Neonatal surgeons are trained specially to repair damage in the smaller bodies of children.

What Do Cardiothoracic Surgeons Do?

Some of the cardiothoracic surgeon’s procedures include treating:

  • Coronary artery blockage: Blockages can occur when cholesterol and fatty deposits accumulate in the arteries that carry blood to the heart. If this obstruction grows over time and gets large, it may result in a heart attack. Patients may require surgery to repair this blockage and the damage to their coronary arteries.
  • Heart failure: Also identified as congestive heart failure, this condition could be caused by many factors, such as hypertension and clogged arteries. These lead to the weakening of the heart caused gradually or suddenly. If non-invasive methods like medicine and lifestyle changes can help monitor or reverse the condition, then a cardiologist is consulted. If the condition worsens and the consulting doctor feels that surgery will help improve the heart function, a cardiac surgeon is required. 
  • Aneurysm of the aortic artery: The major artery that carries blood from the heart to the rest of the body is called the aorta. If this vein is damaged or weakened, it causes an artery bulge, leading to a rupture. During a rupture, if the aneurysm bursts, the blood leaks into the surrounding areas. This occurrence requires surgical intervention and needs to be repaired by specialised cardiac surgeons.
  • Repair or replacement of the heart valve: The heart has four valves that regulate blood flow in the proper direction, allowing the heart to function normally. If there is a defect or anomaly in these valves, a cardiac surgeon can help correct it. 
  • Arrhythmia: Irregular heartbeats occur when the electrical impulses that control the heart are disrupted. It creates fluttering heartbeats or an abnormally slow or fast heart rate. Not all cases need cardiac surgery; however, when inserting a pacemaker or defibrillator is advised, then a cardiac surgeon is needed.

AUAMED always ensures that our students choose a field after exploring and understanding the multitude of options available to them. To help our future doctors make an informed decision, we have briefly explained how they can become cardiothoracic surgeons. Aspiring candidates have to complete medical school and then either a 5-year general surgery residency followed by a 2- or 3-year cardiothoracic surgery residency, or a 6-year integrated cardiothoracic surgery residency program.