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What is Cardiac Anesthesia?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Kristen Osborne
  • Last Modified Date: 04 December 2016
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Cardiac anesthesia is an anesthesia subspecialty focused on providing care to patients during cardiothoracic surgery procedures involving surgery on the human chest. In addition to supervising anesthesia care for such patients, cardiac anesthesiologists are also involved in the management of patients with cardiac conditions when they go in for other surgical procedures. To become a cardiac anesthesiologist, it is necessary to fully qualify as an anesthesiologist and to complete a fellowship in cardiac anesthesia. Training, including undergraduate and medical school, takes a minimum of 13 years.

During cardiothoracic procedures, many patients need to be put on cardiopulmonary bypass. This presents some special risks and concerns and can complicate the surgery considerably. A specialist in cardiac anesthesia can oversee bypass while keeping the patient stable and anesthetized. When bypass is not needed, there are still special concerns with chest surgery and using a cardiac anesthesia specialist can reduce the risk of complications.

The anesthesiologist is responsible for keeping the patient anesthetized during the procedure and managing patient pain immediately after the surgery. Anesthesiologists have a wide variety of tools at their disposal and develop an anesthesia plan tailored to each patient after consulting with the patient and the surgeon. In cardiothoracic procedures, the highly invasive surgery can be risky for the patient, especially if the patient is in poor health, and the anesthesiologist must look for the patient's welfare during the surgery.

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Cardiac conditions like congenital abnormalities of the heart and cardiovascular disease can present significant risks during surgery. A surgeon may request the services of a cardiac anesthesiologist for procedures performed on patients with heart conditions, even when those procedures do not involve the chest. A cardiac anesthesia specialist has extensive experience in managing patients with cardiovascular conditions while under anesthesia, and can supervise anesthesia for the case or assist another anesthesiologist to keep the patient stable, limit pain, and reduce surgical risks.

People exploring a career as a cardiac anesthesiologist may be interested to know that compensation tends to be high for anesthesiologists in general and it can be higher for specialists. The hours tend to be regular, as these anesthesia specialists usually supervise scheduled surgeries, rather than emergency procedures. A fine attention to detail, good math skills, and the ability to think quickly in rapidly changing situations are all valuable traits for people interested in anesthesia careers. High marks in medical school are usually needed to match with an anesthesia residency, as this medical specialty is competitive.

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