About Cardiac Conditions

Heart disease is a broad term used for a wide variety of diseases of the heart and blood vessels such as coronary artery disease, heart rhythm disorders, and defects of the heart present at birth (congenital heart defects).

Coronary artery disease, or cardiovascular disease, is a condition in which plaque (fatty deposits) builds up inside the coronary arteries, reducing and/or blocking blood flow. Treatment for this condition is heart bypass surgery, also called Coronary Artery Bypass Grafting (CABG). It is the most common type of heart surgery.

Symptoms and Diagnosing

Signs of a potential cardiac condition include:

  • Chest pain or discomfort
  • Shortness of breath
  • Nausea/vomiting
  • Back or jaw pain

A variety of tests are used to diagnose cardiac conditions, including:

  • 3D color ultrasound
  • Angiography (using X-rays)
  • Echocardiography (ECHO)
  • Electrocardiogram (EKG)
  • Graded exercise tolerance testing
  • Heart catheterization
  • Stress tests
  • Sascular testing

With a focus on highly precise diagnosis and patient safety, The Virginia Institute of Robotic Surgery offers the most advanced diagnostic tools and services for cardiovascular care, including:

Around-the-clock Cardiac Catheterization Lab staffed by skilled specialists who can diagnose and often treat heart conditions on the spot. Our lab is equipped with:

  • 64–slice, low-dose CT (Computed Tomography) for 3D anatomy images of the heart and blood vessels for the highest level of accuracy during procedures
  • Advanced MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) offering high-speed, high-definition imaging including Open-MRI for patients who feel claustrophobic during traditional MRI

Peripheral Vascular Labs, featuring advanced imaging technology such as the GE Innova IQ Plus. This technology provides your doctor with a clear view of the vascular field, resulting in more reliable detection and treatment and less exposure to radiation.

Treatment and Surgical Options

After diagnosis, treatment of your condition depends on several factors including your overall health and the nature of your issue.

Surgeons use different approaches to operate on the heart depending on your heart problem, general health, and other factors. During heart bypass surgery, the surgeon uses blood vessels taken from another area of your body to repair the damaged arteries. Surgery may be recommended for other types of cardiovascular conditions, including arrhythmia (abnormal heart rhythm) and aneurysm (weakening of the wall of an artery, causing it to widen or balloon out).

Other types of cardiac surgery include implantation of a Ventricular Assist Device (VAD), implantation of a Total Artificial Heart (TAH), and Heart Transplant.

Open-heart Surgery

Open-heart surgery, also called sternotomy, is any kind of surgery in which a surgeon makes a large incision in the chest to open the rib cage and operate on the heart. "Open" refers to the chest, not the heart. Depending on the type of surgery, the surgeon also may open the heart.

Once the heart is exposed, the patient may be connected to a heart-lung bypass machine to take over the heart's pumping action, or the surgeon may operate with the heart pumping.

Open-heart surgery is used to perform Coronary Artery Bypass Grafting, repair or replace heart valves, treat atrial fibrillation, perform heart transplants, implant Ventricular Assist Devices (mechanical pumps), and implant Total Artificial Hearts (replace the lower chambers of the heart).

Minimally Invasive Heart Surgery

In minimally invasive heart surgery (reduced trauma to the body), a surgeon makes small incisions in the side of the chest between the ribs. This type of surgery may or may not use a heart-lung bypass machine.

Minimally invasive heart surgery includes some heart bypass surgeries as well as Maze surgery, a procedure to correct abnormal heart rhythm. It is also used to:

  • Repair or replace heart valves
  • Insert a pacemaker (an electrically charged device that helps manage irregular heartbeat)
  • Insert an ICD (Implantable Cardioverter Defibrillator, a device that shocks the hearts back into a normal rhythm)
  • Take a vein or artery from the body to use as a bypass graft

Robotic Heart Surgery

More than 2.5 million Americans have been diagnosed with complex cardiac arrhythmia, resulting in more than 850,000 annual hospitalizations. The Levinson Heart Institute at Chippenham Hospital was the first facility in the eastern Atlantic region to offer the Hansen Sensei® X robotic catheter system, a navigation assistance technology used during electrophysiology procedures. The system, known as the Hansen Robot, is a sophisticated, flexible robotic platform that integrates advanced levels of control with 3D visualization. A small flexible tube, called a catheter, enables the surgeon to deliver tools and medicines to the heart with unprecedented precision and stability.

Our surgeons also use the da Vinci® Surgical System to perform mitral valve prolapse surgery and coronary artery surgery. In this robotic-assisted surgery, the surgeon uses a computer to control surgical tools on thin robotic arms. The tools are inserted through small incisions in the chest. This allows the surgeon to perform complex surgery with unprecedented precision. The surgeon is always in total control of the robotic arms—the instruments don't move on their own.

Benefits of Robotic Surgery

Benefits include:

  • Faster recovery
  • Less scarring
  • Less time in intensive care
  • Reduced need for blood transfusions
  • Shorter hospital stays


Access support and education resources through American Heart Association and the Heart Foundation. Or ask your doctor or medical team for additional educational and support resources in your area.