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What Are the Risks of Heart Surgery?

Heart surgery has risks, even though its results often are excellent. Risks include:

  • Bleeding.
  • Infection, fever, swelling, and other signs of inflammation.
  • A reaction to the medicine used to make you sleep during the surgery.
  • Arrhythmias (irregular heartbeats).
  • Damage to tissues in the heart, kidneys, liver, and lungs.
  • Stroke, which may cause short-term or permanent damage.
  • Death. (Heart surgery is more likely to be life threatening in people who are very sick before the surgery.)

Memory loss and other issues, such as problems concentrating or thinking clearly, may occur in some people.

These problems are more likely to affect older patients and women. These issues often improve within 6–12 months of surgery.

In general, the risk of complications is higher if heart surgery is done in an emergency situation (for example, during a heart attack). The risk also is higher if you have other diseases or conditions, such as diabetes, kidney disease, lung disease, or peripheral arterial disease (P.A.D.).

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Heart Surgery Clinical Trials

Clinical trials are research studies that explore whether a medical strategy, treatment, or device is safe and effective for humans. To find clinical trials that are currently underway for Heart Surgery, visit

November 08, 2013 Last Updated Icon

The NHLBI updates Health Topics articles on a biennial cycle based on a thorough review of research findings and new literature. The articles also are updated as needed if important new research is published. The date on each Health Topics article reflects when the content was originally posted or last revised.