Heart Bypass Surgery

Reducing chest pain and the risk of death

By Brandie Umar, Executive Director of ContentLast modified: December 08, 2011

Heart Bypass Surgery Defined

Heart bypass surgery is a procedure to widen clogged coronary arteries to improve blood flow and circulation of oxygen to the heart. Clogged arteries can lead to heart attacks, strokes and chest pain. Also known as coronary artery bypass grafting (CABG), heart bypass surgery replaces the blocked vein with an open, healthy vein taken from another area of the body.

Heart bypass surgery is so called because cardiologists 'bypass' blockages in the coronary artery using a vein taken from another area of the body.

Cardiac surgeons first remove the vein that will be used for the graft - commonly this vein is taken from the leg or arm. This vein is then attached, or 'grafted' to the coronary artery above and below the blockage. After surgery the blood flow between the heart and the body passes through the coronary artery using the newly attached graft to bypass the blockage.

Heart bypass surgery effectively creates a new route for blood flow between the heart and arteries.

Heart Bypass Surgery Procedure

To perform heart bypass surgery, cardiac surgeons must either stop the heart or perform surgery while the heart is beating. Traditional heart bypass surgery (CABG) involves stopping a patients heart and connecting the patient to a heart-lung bypass machine (cardiopulmonary bypass) that pumps blood and oxygen around the body during surgery. Recently, Off-Pump Coronary Artery Bypass Grafting (OPCAB) is being used by more surgeons. This method of heart bypass surgery involves the surgeons operating on the patient beating heart. The type of heart bypass procedure suitable will be discussed with the cardiologist before surgery.

Patients are anesthetized before heart bypass procedures and an incision is made along the chest. The chest bone is separated to allow the surgeon to access the heart. The 'grafting' vein, taken from the leg, arm or chest wall, is attached to the coronary artery both above and below the blockage. Blood flow is redirected through the new artery and the chest bone is closed using surgical wire.

Recovering From Heart Bypass Surgery

After heart bypass surgery patients will stay in intensive care for the first 24 hours to be monitored. During surgery, drainage tubes will have been placed around the heart to remove excess fluid. These drainage tubes will be removed 2-4 days after surgery. Patients will be placed on a cardio rehabilitation programme and can leave hospital within 5 days if there are no complications. Complete recovery from heart bypass surgery takes 6-8 weeks.

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