Cardiothoracic, in general terms, refers to the chest. In the medical field, a cardiothoracic surgeon operates surgical treatments in the chest, involving organs such as the heart, lungs and the oesophagus. They may also treat cancer, injuries and obtain biopsies from the thorax. Highly specialised cardiothoracic surgeons may even perform organ transplants.
Cardiothoracic surgery can be divided into three principle subspecialties: cardiac, thoracic and congenital.
Cardiac surgery, also known as cardiovascular surgery, is the surgical treatment on the heart or great vessels such as the aorta and the vena cava. Surgeons conduct cardiac surgery to repair damaged structures in the heart, implant medical devices to aid the heart and treat heart diseases. Some of the common types of cardiac surgery are open-heart surgery, coronary artery bypass grafting, heart transplant and minimally invasive surgery.
A cardiovascular surgeon may operate to treat:
- coronary artery diseases
- blockage in the heart valve(s)
- leaking heart valve(s)
- aneurysms of the large arteries
- heart failure
- atrial fibrillation
Cardiac surgery may be recommended to patients to control symptoms or reduce the risk of a sudden heart event in the future. Cardiac surgery can also help prolong life.
Thoracic surgery involves organs in of the chest but excludes the heart and great vessels. The organs treated in thoracic surgery includes lungs, oesophagus, trachea and the chest wall.
Thoracic surgery addresses various types of conditions such as:
- lung cancer
- tumours and benign growths in the lungs
- oesophageal cancer
- gastroesophageal reflux
- lung infections
- chest reconstruction after major trauma or surgery
- pleural diseases
- lung transplantation for end-stage diseases of the lung
- tracheal resection or stent insertion for airway narrowing
After thoracic surgery, patients can experience relief or experience restoration of the initial function of the affected organs or structure.
Congenital cardiac surgery corrects most heart defects that have been present since birth in babies and young children. These heart defects can involve problems in the interior walls of the heart, the valves, and the arteries and veins that supply blood to or from the heart.
Examples of congenital heart defects are:
- transposition of the great arteries
- ventricular septal defects
- hydroplastic left or right heart syndrome
- atrial septal defects
- coarctation of the aorta
Performing early surgical corrections reduce the impact of chronic illness and provide the ideal solution in the long-run. Congenital surgery is the most demanding type of cardiothoracic surgery and only it is practised by a small group of specialised surgeons.