Coronary artery bypass surgery
What is it?
Why is it performed?
One alternative to bypass surgery is Percutaneous Cardiac Intervention (also known as angioplasty), a non-surgical technique that uses catheters and small structures called stents to keep the arteries open. If there are many blockages or if the blockages are positioned in places that are difficult for a catheter to reach (for example, at a bend in a blood vessel), your doctor may recommend bypass surgery as your best alternative.
By improving blood flow, bypass surgery may decrease heart-related chest pain (angina), make you feel better and increase your ability to be active.
Bypass surgery doesn’t cure the underlying heart disease. Lifestyle changes and medications as prescribed by your healthcare providers are critical to reduce atherosclerosis and blood clot formation to prevent another blockage.
What is done?
Off-Pump or Beating-Heart Surgery
What can you expect?
Bypass surgery may be performed the same day or you may be admitted the night before. The hair on your chest may be clipped and you will be asked to bathe using special antibacterial soap sponges to disinfect your skin. To reduce the risk of vomiting, you will be asked not to eat or drink after midnight the night before surgery.
A bypass is done under a general anesthetic, so you will be asleep throughout the procedure and for some time afterwards. If you smoke, you should stop at least two weeks before your surgery, as smoking can contribute to blood clotting and breathing problems. Smoking is a major risk factor for the development of atherosclerosis and should be stopped altogether.
You will be very sleepy when you arrive in the operating room. The anesthesiologist will insert intravenous tubes and give you additional medication to put you to sleep. After you are completely asleep, all the equipment needed to help support you during the surgery and in your early recovery are put in place.
Unless you are undergoing off-pump or minimally invasive surgery, the heart must be stopped so the surgeons can work on it. To ensure your body continues to receive a flow of oxygen-rich blood, you will be hooked up to a heart-lung machine. This machine takes over the pumping action of the heart and the work of the lungs.
The surgery can take anywhere from 3 to 6 hours, depending upon the number of bypasses that are created. When you wake up, you will be in the recovery room or an intensive care unit (ICU). You can expect to stay in the hospital 5 to 7 days. How quickly you recover from surgery will depend in large part upon how healthy you were before the surgery and how well you tolerated the operation. If you have minimally invasive surgery, your hospital stay may be shorter and your recovery faster. When you return home, contact your doctor if you experience increased pain, redness, swelling, bleeding or discharge from an incision, fever or chills, breathing problems, swelling in the leg and abnormal heartbeats or for any other unusual physical problems.
Last reviewed: June 2012