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What Is Cardiothoracic Anesthesiology?

A cardiothoracic surgeon has extensive training in open heart surgery.
In addition to administering medication, anesthesiologists assist patients with pain management following cardiothoracic surgery.
Cardiothoracic anesthesiology is necessary for performing heart surgery.
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  • Written By: T. Carrier
  • Edited By: John Allen
  • Last Modified Date: 22 September 2014
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Cardiothoracic anesthesiology combines two highly specific specialties in the medical field: cardiothoracic surgery and anesthesiology. In short, this discipline focuses on patient care before, during, and after an operation involving the human chest and its related organs. Important considerations include pain relief and vital sign maintenance. A cardiothoracic anesthesiologist’s main tools are monitoring devices and anesthesiology drugs.

As an application, anesthesiology is typically utilized during surgical procedures. The specialty is named for anesthesia pharmaceuticals, which are drugs designed to block sensations and prevent pain. Anesthesiologists administer these drugs — as well as monitor the patient’s overall physiological responses — during a surgery.

Cardiothoracic medicine comprises the study and treatment of any disorders relating to the heart and chest. Therefore, procedures such as open heart surgery, pacemaker implantation, heart and lung transplants, lung repair surgery, and major blood vessel surgeries are the main components of cardiothoracic surgery. A cardiothoracic anesthesiologist will assist in most of these procedures. If a patient has suspected heart or lung disease, the anesthesiologist may also be asked to assist in a non-cardiothoracic procedure as insurance against any possible complications.

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A specialist of cardiothoracic anesthesiology plays two major roles in a cardiothoracic procedure. The most prominent duty involves the administration of drugs. Prior to the procedure, during preoperative anesthesiology, the specialist will prepare the patient’s body by injecting certain forms of anesthesia into the body. Such drugs may put the patient into a numbed, unconscious state, and the anesthesiologist may need to continually provide these drugs to the patient during the surgery. Following the operation, the anesthesiologist will help create a drug regimen for post-operative anesthesiology treatment.

Practitioners in cardiothoracic anesthesiology also must monitor a patient’s vital signs — most notably breathing and heart rate — during a procedure. In many cardiothoracic surgeries, the patient’s main vital activities are performed by a bypass machine that simulates heart and lung functions. The anesthesiologist must operate this machine and must be prepared to address any emergencies that arise, such as an erratic heart rate. Other issues monitored include blood pressure and blood gas analysis. Monitoring devices like sonograms of the heart and esophagus probes can help detect potential problems.

In most cases, specialization in cardiothoracic anesthesiology will require many years of advanced medical training. After a prospect completes general regional medical school and internship requirements, he or she must enter a medical residency program that focuses on anesthesiology. Following this process, the prospect must generally embark on a cardiothoracic anesthesiology fellowship that lasts about one year. Within this period, the student will receive hands-on experience in various aspects of the discipline.

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