Harvard Heart Letter

Ask the doctor: Why does my father feel wires poking him in the chest months after open-heart surgery?

Ask the doctor

Why does my father feel wires poking him in the chest months after open-heart surgery?

Q. My father had open-heart surgery 18 months ago. Fairly soon after the operation, he started having the feeling that wires are poking him in the chest. Is that possible? If so, is there a solution?

A. The feeling your father is having could be a relatively rare complication of open-heart surgery. To gain access to the heart, most surgeons split the breastbone and hold it apart with a device called a retractor. (Minimally invasive operations that avoid splitting the breastbone are done in some centers.) When the heart repair is finished, wires are used to hold the breastbone together. Scarring around the twisted portion of the wires can cause the painful "poking" sensation your father is experiencing.

By now your father's breastbone should be well healed. His surgeon could consider opening the skin to remove the wire and the scar tissue. This should stop the pain.

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