Anesthesia Before Heart Surgery

Look up a term in The Heart Center glossary.The anesthesiologist is the physician responsible for the administration of drugs that will cause a patient to be unaware, or "asleep," during surgery.

The anesthesiologist also provides a secure airway, controls breathing, places various lines used to closely monitor your child during surgery, and administers the fluids and other drugs necessary to get the patient safely through the operation.  

Anesthesiology is a big responsibility, and we recognize no two patients are the same. Therefore, it is important that an anesthesia team member meet with each family before surgery to discuss a patient's health history, examine the patient and review laboratory tests so we can plan an appropriate anesthetic. At that time, the anesthesia team member can explain what will be done on the first day of surgery and what types of anesthetic drugs will be used.

For surgical patients, most visits will occur in the Same Day Surgery area on the day before surgery. This will be a very busy day. You will meet with a cardiologist, a nurse practitioner and an anesthesia team member.

Your child will also have a chest X-ray, electrocardiogram (EKG), blood tests and possibly an echocardiogram if needed.

For patients undergoing cardiac catheterization or transesophageal echocardiograms (TEE), most visits will occur on the day of the procedure.

An anesthesia team member will generally begin by reviewing a patient's health and medication history. Questions will focus on the heart, but other health issues will be addressed, including:

  • Respiratory problems such as asthma or sleep apnea
  • Problems such as gastro-esophageal reflux or muscle disease
  • A family history of anesthetic problems.

The anesthesia team member will ask if your child has an active respiratory infection such as a cold or pneumonia or has recently had a cold or pneumonia.

Active respiratory infections can be a reason to postpone the operation until the infection is better. If your child is ill the day before or the day you are to come in for the preoperative visit, call the Cardiothoracic Surgery office to discuss the problem. It may save you a trip to the hospital.

You will also be asked about allergies and any family history of problems with anesthetics. Sometimes children react to certain medications in odd ways that are not truly allergic reactions but are labeled as such.

When you report that your child is allergic to a medication, you will be asked to describe the reaction so that we can determine if there is a true allergy. It is unusual for children to be allergic to anesthetic drugs. The most commonly encountered allergies are to antibiotics such as penicillin or amoxicillin.

There are some families in which individuals carry a gene that makes him or her susceptible to severe reactions to certain anesthetic drugs. The condition is known as malignant hyperthermia (MH).

Malignant hyperthermia is a hereditary condition caused by an abnormality in muscle tissue. This condition is rare but if you know of anyone in the family who developed a very high fever during or shortly after surgery, it is important to report this to the anesthesia team member during the preoperative visit.

Any other unusual events during surgery involving a blood relative should also be reported to the anesthesia team member.

The preoperative visit will give you the chance to discuss your child's anesthetic with the anesthesia team member. It is important to ask questions and receive explanations concerning any phase of the anesthetic process.

Many times parents think of questions after the preoperative visit the day before surgery. If this happens, write the questions down on paper and bring them with you the day of surgery. We will be happy to answer them for you.

Can I be present as my child goes to sleep?

The operating room used for heart surgery does not have an induction room (where parents can be with their children as they fall asleep). The primary reason for this is safety.

The child can be more closely monitored in the operating room suite as he or she goes off to sleep. Before the induction of anesthesia, most children have a blood pressure cuff, EKG (heart monitor) leads, and a pulse oximeter placed allowing the anesthesiologist to closely monitor the patient.

After your pre-op visit, if sedation is felt to be necessary to ease the transition of being away from you, your child will be sedated in the Same Day Surgery Room.

Why would I want my child to have extra medication before surgery?

Preoperative sedatives are designed to make the process of induction of anesthesia (going to sleep) as smooth as possible for the child. It also decreases the anxiety over separation from family members.

Whenever possible, we use liquid medicines taken by mouth. The most commonly used medication is called Versed®.

Preoperative medications are given at a designated time so there is ample time for the medication to take effect.

After receiving Versed®, most children will not remember being taken to the operating room for surgery.

Some children will be fascinated by the whole process and not need a premedication. These children are the exception. We expect most children over the age of 1 to be justifiably nervous and unwilling to separate from their parents unless a premedication is given

Will my child experience awareness or pain during surgery?

There are two parts to pain. One is a conscious awareness that something hurts and the other is the body's response, which includes increased heart rate and blood pressure as well as the release of various chemicals that increase the breakdown of fats and protein.

The medications used block the conscious awareness. This begins when a child receives Versed as a premedication. This drug reduces awareness and blocks memory for events after the drug is given.

Anesthesiologists also block awareness and help blunt memory. The combination of inhaled anesthetics and Versed is very powerful.

Your child may also receive a high dose of narcotic medication as part of the anesthetic. These drugs block pain signals and also block the body's response to painful procedures.

The inhaled anesthetics also help block the body's response to painful stimuli. We adjust the dose based on the child's individual needs.

How do you know how much anesthesia to give?

Each child has continuous monitoring of heart rate, blood pressure, exhaled carbon dioxide, and blood oxygen saturation. We use this information as well as the child's age and weight to determine how much anesthetic to give each child.

The anesthetics we use have been well studied, and there are ranges of doses that are appropriate for children of given ages and weights. We recognize all children are unique, so the drugs are adjusted to the needs of each child.  

Will my child experience pain after surgery?

Everything is done to ensure children who have heart surgery are not uncomfortable after surgery. The narcotic medications given during surgery will not wear off as soon as the operation is completed. The pain-killing effect will last for one or more hours after surgery.

Once the child is in the Cardiac Intensive Care Unit, the team there will give additional pain medication as needed.

Some children are placed on continuous infusions of pain medication and many are kept sedated overnight.

Some children have the breathing tube removed immediately after surgery or within the first several hours after surgery.

If they are old enough to give themselves pain medication, a patient-controlled analgesia (PCA) device may be prescribed.

Children who are too young to use a PCA may be given caudal morphine (similar to an epidural). Morphine given by this route provides long periods of pain relief. See postoperative pain control options.

Will my child need a blood transfusion during surgery?

Every effort is made to avoid transfusion, but in some cases it is necessary for the child's safety.

Infants and children under about 20 pounds are the most likely to need transfusion.

Most infants do not have enough red cells in their circulation to go on the heart-lung bypass machine safely unless red blood cells are added to the bypass pump. This means that they receive a transfusion while on the bypass pump.

Every effort is made to minimize the exposure to extra units of blood. Following bypass, special techniques for concentrating blood are used to achieve a safe red blood count in each patient.

In some cases, particularly those involving extensive suturing on large blood vessels in infants, it is necessary to give other blood products such as platelets. Platelets are elements in the blood which help form clots. Platelets are used up or damaged during heart-lung bypass.


Last Updated 01/2013