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Intensive care management after cardiothoracic surgery 

Intensive care management after cardiothoracic surgery
Intensive care management after cardiothoracic surgery

Matthew Barnard

and Nicola Jones

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date: 05 July 2022

Management of the post-cardiothoracic surgical patient follows general principles of intensive care, but incorporates certain unique considerations. In cardiac surgical patients peri-operative ischaemia, arrhythmias and ventricular dysfunction mandate specific monitoring requirements, and individual pharmacological and mechanical support. Suspicion of myocardial ischaemia should not only lead to pharmacological treatment, but also consideration of urgent angiography to exclude coronary graft occlusion. Ventricular dysfunction may be pre-existing or attributable to intra-operative myocardial ‘stunning’. Catecholamines and phosphodiesterase inhibitors are the mainstay of therapy. Rarely, intra-aortic balloon pumping or ventricular assist devices are required. Significant bleeding (with potential cardiac tamponade), respiratory compromise, acute kidney injury, neurological injury, and deep sternal wound infection each occur in ~2–3% of cardiac surgical patients. Each of these has individual risk factors and specific management considerations. General guidelines for patients who have undergone thoracic surgery include early extubation, fluid restriction, effective analgesia, and protective lung ventilation. Thoracic patients are at risk of atelectasis, respiratory infection, bronchial air leak, and right ventricular failure. Positive pressure ventilation is avoided whenever possible particularly after pneumonectomy, but is sometimes necessary in compromised patients. Air leaks are common. Alveolopleural fistulae usually improve with conservative management,whereas bronchopleural fistulae are more likely to require surgical intervention. Lung surgery is high risk for patients with ischaemic heart disease. Patients with pre-existing elevated pulmonary vascular resistance may exhibit right ventricular dysfunction and may fail to cope with a further increase in pulmonary vascular resistance consequent to lung resection. Lung collapse and infection are constant risks throughout the entire post-operative period.

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