What to Do When You’re Turned Down for Heart Surgery?

heart surgery risks

Heart surgery is not a cure, but it can be a solution to the ails and pains that one might experience from heart conditions caused by blockages in the blood vessels that lead to your heart. Unfortunately, however, Heart Surgery is not for everyone. There are determinable factors that can make a patient unsuitable for it.

It is your doctor who will decide, in the end, whether you should or should not get cardiac surgery. But it’s important to understand why or why not. And, it’s even more important to know that there are other options out there for you.

The article below is intended to tell you why heart surgery is done, why your doctor may have refused to operate on your heart, and the alternatives available:

Why is Heart Surgery Done?

Before anything else, let’s discuss what warrants cardiac surgery in the first place. That is, your doctor may recommend heart surgery if:

  • You suffer from debilitating angina (severe chest pain) that is caused by narrowed blood vessels that obstruct the flow of blood whether you are at rest or are even mildly strained by exercise (Coronary Artery Disease or CAD)
  • You have been diagnosed with coronary artery disease that has caused your heart’s left ventricle—which is the part that pumps blood—to stop working as it should
  • Your left main coronary artery, which supplies blood to the left ventricle, is obstructed.
  • You suffer from an arterial blockage that cannot be treated with stents or angioplasty.
  • You have experience with either angioplasty or stents.

Note, outside of these premeditated occasions, there are times when emergency heart surgery may be needed for patients who suffered from a heart attack.

What are the Main Risks of Heart Surgery?

The risk of complications during heart surgery is generally low. However, those that suffer from a pre-existing medical condition such as diabetes, coronary artery disease in the extremities (arms and legs), emphysema, kidney disease, etc. can experience increased risks.

The following complications are known to occur before or after heart surgery:

  • Bleeding
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Infection from the incision site
  • Short-term memory loss that can last for up to six to twelve months
  • Damage to the kidneys
  • Stroke
  • Heart attack

Even when the risks are considerably ‘low.’ There is no denying that a lot of the common complications can result in mortal danger. Which is why your doctor might offer alternative options for you instead:

Alternatives to Heart Surgery for CAD

When it comes down to it, the only other option that most doctors consider is angioplasty plus testing. This is the process of using a ‘balloon’ inside of a wire mesh stent to inflate narrowed arteries. The balloon, of course, is removed, but the procedure leaves behind the stent to support the arterial walls and improve the blood flow in that particular blood vessel.

The Cardiovascular Institute of the South considers this a great alternative when heart surgery is not possible. They even offer a safer solution than the traditional PCI (Percutaneous Coronary Intervention) methods described above where they use a product called the Impella® (an incredibly tiny heart pump) to maintain the activity of critical organs while angioplasty with stenting is performed. They call this the “Protected PCI” method, because, as mentioned, it is especially effective for patients that were turned down for heart surgery, or patients who have other conditions or medical history that may affect the procedure.

The Bottom Line

Heart Surgery is a very delicate process. And although the mortality risk is a lot lower than it used to be, there are plenty of reasons why your doctor might be dissuaded from performing it on you. Fortunately, there are other options available. Options that, when done correctly, should not only help reduce the worst of the symptoms that come with Cardiovascular Disease but also provide some security for you as the patient.


  1. Salvaggio, D. (n.d.). Turned Down for Heart Surgery?: Cardiovascular Health. Retrieved November 30, 2020, from https://www.cardio.com/blog/turned-down-for-heart-surgery

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