Cardiothoracic surgeons are medical doctors who practice in the field of medicine known as cardiothoracic surgery, which focuses on the surgical treatment of organs in the thoracic cavity, mainly the heart, the lungs, and the esophagus. This can be derived from the two parts of the name; cardio, which means anything related to the heart; and thoracic, which means anything relating to the midsection of the body.
In most countries, cardiothoracic surgery is further subdivided into more specialized branches such as cardiac surgery, which focuses more on the heart, and thoracic surgery, which focuses more on the lungs, esophagus, and thymus. However, most developed western countries like the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, and the European Union all consider cardiothoracic surgery its own distinct branch of surgical medicine, with an equal amount of focus and competency on both the cardiac aspect, and the thoracic aspect.
Cardiothoracic surgeons differ from the more well-known cardiologists and pulmonologists in the sense that the latter are simply doctors who diagnose conditions and disorders related to the heart and lungs, and then prescribe medication for said disorders. Cardiothoracic surgeons on the other hand perform invasive surgery on your thoracic cavity for the purposes of rectifying any conditions that may require surgery, such as heart transplants, and surgery for lung cancer. Cardiologists and pulmonologists do not perform surgery.
Training for cardiothoracic surgeons comprises of a five to seven year general surgery residency, followed by a two to three year cardiothoracic surgery residency program. This is all on top of the usual pre-medical and medical school before this. All surgery training schools are highly competitive, ensuring that only the best of the best can qualify as cardiothoracic surgeons.
As surgeons and doctors, cardiothoracic surgeons are among one of the most important kinds of medical professionals around. Most human deaths and diseases are linked to the heart and/or lungs, which makes cardiothoracic surgeons’ expertise invaluable to human health. The heart and lungs are among the most important and vital organs in the human body, and thus any and all diseases relating to them are incredibly important to fix. More so if it is a disorder that requires surgical care.
Particular kinds of heart diseases that require the services of a cardiothoracic surgeon include blockages of the arteries in the heart, heart valves, leaking heart valves, heart enlargements, and heart failure, and other congenital heart defects. On the other hand, lung diseases that would require surgical attention include lung cancer, esophageal cancer, emphysema, and swallowing disorders. Aside from this, there are many more other disorders both in the heart and lungs, and beyond that a cardiothoracic surgeon can fix.
The heart and the lungs are often linked together when it comes to medical specializations such as cardiothoracic medicine due to their functions being intrinsically linked to one another. The heart is the organ responsible for the pumping and circulation of your blood throughout your body from head to toe. This circulation is a cycle of oxygenating your blood, which is the process of filling your blood with nutrients from oxygen. The lungs on the other hand, are what carries the oxygen to the blood in the first place. As we breathe in air into our lungs, the process of our lung’s alveoli storing the vital oxygen for our blood begins, and as we breathe out, we expel the poisonous carbon dioxide away from our bodies. From there, the stored oxygen waits for it to be transferred to deoxygenated blood to turn it into oxygenated blood. This is one of the most basic forms processes of keeping our body up and running, so it should come as no surprise that many doctors are specialized in both organs for practicality’s sake.
Despite the several advances in modern medicine, there are still several risks present in the procedures of cardiothoracic surgery. However, it should be duly noted that the statistics for these risks are extremely low, with only a 4-6% mortality rate. In any case, one of the risks during cardiac surgery is neurological damage due to the occurrence of a stroke. This can occur due to an unnatural amount of blood being pumped into the brain during the procedure, however this only occurs in only 5% of cases, and is only known to have been observed in patients who are already at higher risks of strokes to begin with.
In the case of lung surgery, one major risk is a prolonged air leak, or PAL, which occurs around 8-25% of patients following lung cancer surgery. This is a result of an excess amount of air leaking out from a patient’s lungs due to the invasive surgery. However, it is not a generally fatal risk, and usually just prolongs the patient’s hospital stay due to them needing the chest tube for longer, in order to recuperate from the lost air and oxygen from the procedure.
Despite all these risks, a cardiothoracic surgeon is duly and diligently trained, and are prepared to counteract any of these risks. Medicine is an incredibly complex and important science, which puts the practitioner in charge of human lives. Thus, it should logically follow that any cardiothoracic surgeon would have passed the strictest of tests in order to get to where they are now.
As said before, heart and lung-related diseases are among the most debilitating and serious of health conditions, so it should come as no surprise that training to become a cardiothoracic surgeon is one of the most difficult, long, and competitive in the world. To date, heart diseases account for over 30% of deaths in the world, making it the leading cause of death. Pulmonary diseases are the #3 cause of death. So together, they form a vital dyad wherein medical competence is paramount. However, it’s because of these factors that when you do need to see a cardiothoracic surgeon, you must rest easy and know you’re in safe hands. All doctors have a Hippocratic Oath, which bounds them to always do their best to save their patients in the best way possible, cardiothoracic surgeons included. As doctors meant to fix the incredibly important organs of the heart and lungs, you can rest assured that they know what they’re doing, and that they’d do their best to make the surgery a success.