Is Open Heart Surgery with COPD Dangerous?

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Understanding the Risks

Patients suffering from COPD are at a higher risk for problems not only during but after surgery for a variety of reasons. This can include numerous different factors such as the type of anesthetic used, which is often determined by the invasiveness of the procedure and the severity of the pulmonary diseases. Studies have indicated that those with moderate to severe symptoms of COPD are at a higher risk of suffering complications during an open heart surgery and any other procedure which may require a general anesthetic, which are used to put the individual “to sleep”. However, the patient should keep in mind that complications that can arise are still very rare among surgical clients and can also occur among patients that are not suffering from COPD.

Potential Complications

Some of the complications associated with open heart surgery may include difficulty breathing on one’s own immediately following surgery and difficulties in awakening the patient. As previously mentioned, this is very rare, affecting fewer than five percent of patients having open heart surgery, even in those with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Although some have suggested that this type of surgery places the COPD patient at higher incidence for lung infection, this too is not very common. Other potential complications may consist of a stroke or coma, which can lead to physical and mental impairment and even death. The mortality rates associated with heart surgery in these patients is not solely dependent on the variable of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease though and other factors were also often involved in these studies.

Other Considerations

Open heart surgery with COPD is often not as dangerous as many may think. As a matter of fact, patients suffering from a variety of diseases and/or conditions such as diabetes for example, may have the same risks. However, the more problems that the patient has in addition to the COPD can increase the numbers. Those with the highest incidence of complications from open heart surgery are typically those of an older age, have poor health and those in the latter stages of COPD. In most cases, the cardiologist believes that the benefit will outweigh the risks of such a procedure. Certain conditions left untreated can contribute to further problems with the lungs, such as fluid build up leading to congestive heart failure (CHF). The patient should always direct any questions or concerns about their surgery to the physician prior to the actual procedure.


Heart Failure. Medline Plus. U.S. National Library of Medicine and National Institutes of Health. 22, June 2010. Viewed 22, November 2010.

Peri-operative Medical Management of Patients With COPD. International Journal of COPD. Dove Press. 14, December 2007. Viewed 24, November 2010.