Heart surgery: Questions every patient should ask

LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- Just hearing that you or someone you know needs to have heart surgery can be overwhelming.

While you are processing the idea, you will probably be filled with questions.

But knowing the right questions to ask before you meet with your surgeon can be a powerful tool in preparing yourself.

Lauren Friedman is the deputy editor of Health for Consumer Reports and she understands that hearing about a heart operation can sound like something out of science fiction.

"They're going to open up your chest and they are going to fix something in your heart, often while your heart is stopped," Friedman said.

And yet this happens successfully hundreds of thousands of times a year.

Even though the mortality rate today is almost half of what it was in 1990, patients may still be nervous about going under the knife.

Experts say that asking the right questions during your consultation with a cardiac surgeon can help you approach your operation with confidence instead of fear.

Dr. David Adams is a cardiac surgeon at Mount Sinai Health System. He spends about an hour with new patients, walking them through how the heart works, what the recommended procedure will accomplish and why they need it.

"I like to show them their actual anatomy and compare it to normal anatomy so they really understand what their disease is," Adams said. "I think when they understand that, I think a lot of the, sort of, fear leaves them."

Adams also emphasizes the importance of asking doctors about their experience, especially as it relates to the exact type of surgery you'll need.

Questions that Adams suggests asking include "Do you consider yourself an expert?" and "How many of these have you done and do you have any results you can share with me?"

"Those questions should be answered," Friedman added. "You shouldn't get pushback and if you do, that's a bit of a red flag."

Patients should also ask about what happens after the procedure.

"It will be really helpful to you and anyone taking care of you to have the answers to all of these basic questions before you have the surgery so you know what to expect," Friedman said.

Patients can connect with each other and share their personal experiences through the American Heart Association's support network.
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