Don't Catch a Cold After Heart Surgery

Heart operation pneumonia remains the most common infection

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Prior to heart surgery, many patients are concerned that there could be complications such as infection from the deep incision. Pneumonia is actually the most common serious infection after a cardiac operation.

New research also has revealed that patients are at the highest risk for infections within the two weeks after a heart operation, not one week as previously believed.

"Check in with your doctor regularly after heart surgery."

Dr. Michael A. Acker, the study’s lead researcher and professor and chief of cardiovascular surgery at the University of Pennsylvania Medical Center, said it wasn't what researchers expected to find.

Investigators reviewed more than 5,100 patients with an average age of 64 in a heart surgery registry. All patients were treated at one of nine US medical centers or a Canadian hospital. Commonly performed operations included, bypass surgery and operations to repair heart valves. Patients with infections prior to surgery were excluded.

During the review of the records, 761 infections were pinpointed, of which 300 were classified as major infections. Pneumonia occurred in 2.4 percent of patients, while intestinal infection C. difficile colitis and bloodstream infections were each reported in 1 percent of patients. Infections occurred as a result of deep incisions at the surgical site in one out of every 200 patients. Urinary tract and superficial site infections were the most common minor infections.

They found that the median time for developing a major infection was two weeks after a heart operation, with 43 percent of infections occurring after a patient was discharged from the hospital.

Dr. Acker said that about half of patients showed no signs of infection when they were discharged from the hospital, but returned because of a new infection. He said this suggests that patients should be closely followed after they return home.

Some risk factors increased the chance of infection, including congestive heart failure, hypertension, chronic lung disease, corticosteroid use prior to surgery, and length of cardiopulmonary bypass time.

The research was recently presented at the American Heart Association's annual meeting in Orlando, Fla.

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Review Date: 
November 15, 2011
Last Updated:
October 11, 2012