Facebook Twitter instagram Youtube
Can Heart Surgery Cause Brain Damage?

Can Heart Surgery Cause Brain Damage?


Brain damage due to heart surgery has several manifestations, from encephalopathy or coma to focal neurological deficit. The risk of brain damage can be determined by the type of procedure, the extent of hypo-perfusion both during and after the surgery, and the range of cerebral embolization.


The recent changes made in heart surgery procedures, including the use of off-pump surgery, have not reduced the rates of brain injury caused by cardiac surgery. The management of post-operative medicines and the early use of different rehabilitation services is a suggested strategy for optimising recovery for individuals with brain damage after heart surgery.


Can heart surgery cause brain damage?

Thought impairment lingers after heart surgery. Undergoing heart surgery can put the brain at risk. Heart surgery is one of the most common brain damage causes.


Over 5, 00,000 heart surgeries are performed in the USA every year. Many patients suffer from different types of heart surgery complications, among which, impaired brain function or thought impairment for up to six months post-surgery is one of the most common complications. By scanning the brains of the patient both before and post-heart surgery, researchers have concluded that the surgical procedure can affect the brain, both in the short and long term. Brain scans and many tests are also performed to measure the attention, concentration, hand-eye coordination and short-term memory of the patients. The results showed that new regions in the brains had a reduced blood flow post-surgery.


The scans also revealed changes in the way the brains of the patients reacted to specific compounds, which caused cell damage. The patients with these changes scored less on their thinking tests. However, their brain function returned to normal within 10 to 14 days post-surgery. The negative effects of heart surgery on the brains of the patients can last for several weeks after the surgery. The performances of the patients on memory and attention tests before and post-surgery are different. Before the surgery, the patients scored low on their memory tests. However, this can be due to pre-surgery anxiety and underlying heart problems. Brain functions that help with attention are most vulnerable to damage because they are among the most complicated. Thus, similar to different major surgeries, heart surgery can expose the human brain to unusual stress, like oxygen scarcity, inflammation and low body temperature. Even power anaesthesia medications can affect brain functions in patients.


Causes of brain damage after heart surgery


The inflammation in the brain caused by heart surgery can cause a temporary decline in the brain functionality of the patients. Additionally, using a lung or heart machine to circulate blood during heart surgery can create small air bubbles, resulting in short-term brain damage.


Symptoms of brain damage after heart surgery

The human brain is complicated, and every part of it serves a different function. The symptoms of brain damage post-heart surgery can vary depending on the location of the damage. General signs of brain damage after heart surgery are as follows:


  • Confusion
  • Affected balance
  • Seizures
  • Headache
  • Blurred vision
  • Memory problems
  • Difficulty in speaking clearly


Signs of injuries to specific parts of the brain


  • Temporal lobe: The side parts of the brain are responsible for understanding spoken words, memory and hearing. Temporal lobe damage can affect all these functions.
  • Frontal lobe: This is the front part of the brain responsible for personality, speaking, judgement and emotions. Frontal lobe damage can cause personality changes, impulsivity and difficulty concentrating.
  • Occipital lobe: The rear side of the brain makes up for a person’s vision, and damage to this part can cause visual disturbances and even loss of eyesight.
  • Parietal lobe: This is the middle portion of the brain that works for the senses, and damage to this part can affect a person’s taste and hearing ability.


Treatment options for brain damage caused by heart surgery

Usually, cognitive disability caused by heart surgery can resolve independently after a few weeks of the surgery. But at times, when the problems become constant and the brain complications do not heal on their own, treatment is necessary.

Healthcare professionals use the following treatment options:


  • Physical therapy
  • Occupational therapy
  • Language, speech or psychological therapies for helping out heart surgery patients.




Brain damage caused by heart surgery is not a medical emergency, but it can soon become one if not adequately managed. Therefore, if you are facing any such problem, visit https://www.medanta.org/ and book an appointment with our doctors.



Dr. Amit Chandra
Cardiac Care
Meet The Doctor
Back to top