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|Bypass surgery is one way to treat coronary artery disease. Watch this narrated animation to learn more about how this surgery is performed. (Animation provided courtesy of Medtronic.)
Coronary artery bypass graft surgery is an operation used to treat blockages in the arteries that supply the heart muscle with oxygen-rich blood. When a heart artery is blocked, it can cause chest pain or discomfort and other unpleasant symptoms, such as shortness of breath, fatigue, nausea or dizziness. A blocked artery can also cause a heart attack.
Coronary bypass surgery - also known as coronary artery bypass graft surgery or “CABG” - is performed in a hospital operating room by a cardiac surgeon, a medical specialist trained in surgical procedures to treat conditions affecting the heart and blood vessels. You may also hear the terms cardiovascular or cardiothoracic surgeon used to describe the physician who will perform the operation.
During the procedure, your surgeon will take a section of a healthy artery or vein from one of several sites in the body – usually the chest, arm, or leg. The most successful bypasses use the internal mammary artery, which runs just inside the edge of each side of the breastbone. Your doctor will then attach (or graft) the artery or vein so that blood flows through this “new” vessel beyond the blockage in the diseased portion of the heart artery. This creates a “bypass” through which blood may flow around the blockage to the heart muscle.
Coronary artery bypass graft surgery is a major surgery and will require some preparation on your part to be sure you have completed all necessary tests before the operation, have any personal items you need while in the hospital, and are able to focus only on your recovery in the weeks after you leave the hospital. Knowing what you can expect in advance can help relieve anxiety and help you make necessary preparations.
Click on the links below for detailed information about what to expect before, during and immediately after bypass surgery. Read on to also learn more about what you can expect in the weeks and months following bypass surgery. Recovery and the transition back to daily life are different for each patient, but there are steps you and your care team can take to make the process go smoothly and to pave the way for a healthier life moving forward.
- What to Expect Before Coronary Bypass Surgery: The information here can help you understand what to expect as you prepare for surgery. The days and hours prior to your surgery will involve coordination with your care team around details such as dietary restrictions, medications, preoperative tests, questions about your procedure, and more.
- What to Expect During Coronary Bypass Surgery: Here we describe coronary bypass surgery in detail. During bypass surgery, the patient is under general anesthesia and will not experience pain or remember the procedure. However, it can be helpful to know how the surgery is performed.
- What to Expect Immediately After Coronary Bypass Surgery: Your recovery from bypass surgery will begin in the hospital and then be ongoing at home for about six weeks. (Every patient is different, so exactly how long your recovery takes will depend on a number of issues specific to you.) Most patients find it helpful to know what to expect in the first hours and days after surgery as well as during the recovery period at home. The information here can help you identify signs of a complication.
- Long-Term Recovery and Support After Coronary Bypass Surgery: Coronary bypass surgery is a solution for specific blockages in certain coronary arteries, but it doesn’t cure the underlying heart disease process. Long-term recovery will involve managing the risk factors that are contributing to your coronary artery disease. Some risk factors, such as family history, can’t be changed, but others such as dietary and exercise habits can be. Medical professionals and support groups are available to help you make lifestyle changes and can also assist you with depression, a common occurrence after bypass surgery or a heart disease diagnosis.
- Cardiac Rehabilitation: While you are in the hospital and in the weeks and months following the surgery, you may participate in a structured recovery program called cardiac rehabilitation. Studies have shown that heart patients who complete cardiac rehab have better odds of a long life than those who do not complete a program.
For more information about the medical professionals who will be helping you before, during, and after your coronary bypass surgery, visit Your Care Team During Coronary Bypass Surgery. Please visit SecondsCount’s Resources on Coronary Bypass Surgery section for other sources of information about coronary artery bypass graft surgery and organizations that can assist you with practical advice and emotional support.