Rochester, Minnesota - In minimally invasive heart surgery, heart (cardiac) surgeons perform heart surgery through small incisions in the right side of your chest, as an alternative to open heart surgery. Surgeons operate between the ribs and don't split the breastbone (sternotomy), which results in less pain and a quicker recovery for most people.

In minimally invasive surgery, your heart surgeon has a better view of some parts of your heart than in open heart surgery. As in open surgery, minimally invasive heart surgery requires stopping your heart temporarily and diverting blood flow from your heart using a heart-lung machine.

Surgeons perform many minimally invasive heart surgeries, including:

  • Aortic valve surgery
  • Atrial septal defect closure, including patent foramen ovale
  • Atrioventricular canal defect (also called atrioventricular septal defect) surgery
  • Heart valve surgery  to treat heart valve disease
  • Maze heart surgery to treat atrial fibrillation
  • Mitral valve surgery 
  • Saphenous vein harvest (removing a vein from your leg) for coronary bypass surgery
  • Tricuspid valve surgery

Your doctor will work with you to determine whether minimally invasive heart surgery is an option. If you've had prior heart surgery or heart disease, you generally aren't a candidate for minimally invasive heart surgery. Your doctor also may perform tests and review your medical history to determine whether you're a candidate for minimally invasive heart surgery. Mayo Clinic offers robot-assisted surgery or thoracoscopic minimally invasive heart surgery.

Advantages

Minimally invasive heart surgery isn't an option for everyone, but it offers many advantages in those for whom it's appropriate.

Advantages may include:

  • Less blood loss
  • Lower risk of infection
  • Reduced trauma and pain
  • Shorter time in the hospital, faster recovery and quicker return to normal activities
  • Smaller, less noticeable scars

Risks

In people for whom minimally invasive heart surgery is appropriate, risks and complications are rare. You may experience these complications, which also may occur in other surgeries:

  • Bleeding
  • Stroke
  • Wound infection

Types

Mayo Clinic heart surgeons work with an experienced surgical team to perform minimally invasive heart surgery, including robot-assisted heart surgery and thoracoscopic heart surgery. In both types of procedures, surgeons reach your heart through small incisions between the ribs of your chest.

  • Robot-assisted heart surgery. In robot-assisted heart surgery, the exact maneuvers performed in traditional open chest operation are duplicated by the surgeon using robotic arms, rather than his or her hands. During this procedure, your surgeon works at a remote console and views your heart in a magnified high-definition 3-D view on a video monitor.

    From the remote console, your surgeon's hand movements are translated precisely to the robotic arms at the operating table, which move similarly to the human wrist. A second surgeon and surgical team assists at the operating table, changing surgical instruments attached to the robotic arms.

  • Thoracoscopic surgery. In thoracoscopic surgery (sometimes referred to as a mini-thoracotomy), your surgeon inserts a long, thin tube (thoracoscope) containing a tiny high-definition video camera into a small incision in your chest. Your surgeon repairs your heart using long instruments inserted through small incisions between your ribs.

After performing a physical examination and reviewing your clinical records, echocardiogram, and CT scan, Mayo Clinic doctors will determine whether a conventional open operation or minimally invasive operation is best for you.