Common Complications Following Open Heart Surgery

All forms of surgery present degrees of risk, but the complications that can follow open heart surgery pose unique dangers. Surgeons will take every precaution possible to minimize these risks and ensure their open heart surgery success rate remains high, but it’s beneficial to educate yourself on these risks and ask questions. There are numerous factors that determine what you as an individual are at most the risk of experiencing, and many of them relate to your personal health history. Let’s look at some of the most common open heart surgery risks of death and injury.


The most common complication after open heart surgery is bleeding from the area of the incision or surgery site. During the surgery itself as well as recovery, you will be closely monitored and your progress tracked. Some bleeding after surgery is expected until the blood coagulates again, but if concerns arise if the bleeding lasts for an extended period of time without slowing or if you are bleeding “in” rather than “out.”

Heart Complications After Surgery

Blood Loss

Too much blood loss following a major procedure like open heart surgery can quickly snowball into a life-threatening situation. This is true even given a surgeon with a great open heart surgery success rate. Anemia can follow blood loss, depriving blood of red cells and hemoglobin, ultimately curtailing delivery of oxygen to body tissue. Traditionally, blood transfusions have been used in response to blood loss, but this isn’t a viable option for everyone. There are certain religious convictions against blood transfusions, and transfusions may weaken the immune system. For patients with concerns about blood transfusions, bloodless heart surgery has proven an effective alternative.

Cardiac Tamponade

This is a serious medical condition and among the biggest open heart surgery risks of death. Cardiac Tamponade occurs when blood fills that space the heart and the sac surrounding it. Blood continues to fill this area and places tremendous pressure on the heart, preventing the parts of the heart from performing their functions and eventually stopping the heart from pumping blood. This emergency situation is addressed with hospitalization. A doctor will try to drain the fluid, which may require the use of invasive procedures. The sooner the issue is addressed, the better the outlook.

Blood Clots

Though they can result from any form of surgery, patients undergoing open heart surgery are at greater risk. The most common reason blood clots can form is the inactivity the patient’s body experiences during long surgical procedures. Swelling in your leg and shortness of breath following your surgery could be indications of a blood clot and should be addressed right away. An untreated blood clot could break away and travel to the lungs or brain, resulting in death. Blood clots can be removed through simple surgery.

Your experience with open heart surgery doesn’t have to be a scary, uncertain one. Reach out to the experienced specialists working with Dr. Ciuffo to learn more about our success rates and what recovery time you might be facing.

A picture of Giovanni B. Ciuffo, MD wearing his Mercy One doctor attire.

About the Author

Giovanni B. Ciuffo, MD Director is an expert in Minimally Invasive Heart Surgery and Bloodless Heart Surgery is the outcome of his commitment to the development and improvement of both of these techniques. He runs a Cardiothoracic Surgery practice and manages Minimally Invasive and Bloodless Heart Surgery Program where he cares for patients from all over the country and locally. Click here to learn more about Dr. Ciuffo.

Board Certified:
American Board of Surgery
American Board of Thoracic Surgery