Heart bypass surgery for blocked arteries
Understanding Coronary Artery Bypass Grafting
What is it?
Like any other muscle in your body, your heart requires blood in order to work. It gets the blood it needs from your coronary arteries.
A coronary artery bypass graft, or bypass surgery, is for patients who have blockages or severe narrowing in the arteries that supply the heart. A blood vessel is taken from another part of your body and is used to go around—or bypass—the blocked artery. This restores blood flow to your heart.
Coronary artery bypass graft surgery (CABG, pronounced "cabbage") is the most commonly performed type of heart surgery.
Coronary bypass surgery doesn't cure the underlying heart disease that caused blockages in the first place. This disease is referred to as atherosclerosis or coronary artery disease.
Even if you have coronary bypass surgery, lifestyle changes are still a necessary part of treatment after surgery. Medications are routine after coronary bypass surgery to lower your blood cholesterol, reduce the risk of developing a blood clot and help your heart function as well as possible.
Who should have it?
Most patients with coronary artery disease do not require surgery. Bypass surgery is usually reserved for patients with severe blockages in two or more arteries. Patients with narrowings in only one coronary artery are usually treated with balloon angioplasty or stents.
If you have other conditions, such as diabetes, bypass surgery may be the best treatment option. You may require one, two, three, or more bypass grafts depending on how many arteries are blocked.
Your doctor will recommend bypass surgery based on your symptoms and the results of diagnostic tests including cardiac catheterization.
Coronary bypass surgery is an option if:
- You have severe chest pain caused by narrowing of several of the arteries that supply your heart muscle, leaving the muscle short of blood during even light exercise or at rest. Sometimes angioplasty and stenting will help, but for some types of blockages, coronary bypass surgery may be the best option.
- You have more than one diseased coronary artery and the heart's main pump — the left ventricle — is not functioning well.
- Your left main coronary artery is severely narrowed or blocked. This artery supplies most of the blood to the left ventricle.
- You have an artery blockage for which angioplasty isn't appropriate, you've had a previous angioplasty or stent placement that hasn't been successful, or you've had stent placement but the artery has narrowed again (restenosis).
Coronary bypass surgery may also be performed in emergency situations, such as a heart attack, if your doctor sees that you're not responding to other treatments.
How it's done
A coronary artery bypass graft is major surgery. It generally takes between three and six hours and requires general anesthesia. On average, surgeons repair two to four coronary arteries. The number of bypasses required depends on the location and severity of blockages in your heart.
Most coronary bypass surgeries are done through a large incision in the chest while blood flow is diverted through a heart-lung machine (called on-pump coronary bypass surgery).
The surgeon cuts down the center of the chest, along the breastbone. The surgeon then spreads open the rib cage to expose the heart. After the chest is opened, the heart is temporarily stopped and a heart-lung machine takes over to circulate blood to the body.
The surgeon takes a section of healthy blood vessel, often from inside the chest wall (the internal mammary artery) or from the lower leg, and attaches the ends above and below the blocked artery so that blood flow is diverted (bypassed) around the narrowed portion of the diseased artery.
Removing these healthy vessels is harmless since there are many other arteries and veins that can take over for them.
Other surgical techniques
There are other newer surgical techniques your surgeon may use if you're having coronary bypass surgery:
- Off-pump or beating-heart surgery. This procedure allows surgery to be done on the still-beating heart using special equipment to stabilize the area of the heart the surgeon is working on. This type of surgery is challenging because the heart is still moving. Because of this, it's not an option for everyone.
- Minimally-invasive bypass surgery. In this procedure, a surgeon performs coronary bypass through a smaller incision in the chest, often with the use of robotics and video imaging that help the surgeon operate in a small area. Variations of minimally invasive surgery may be called port-access or keyhole surgery.
Types of surgical techniques:The benefits of minimally invasive surgery include a smaller incision (three to four inches instead of the six to eight-inch incision with traditional surgery) and smaller scars. Other possible benefits may include a reduced risk of infection, less bleeding, less pain and trauma, decreased length of stay in the hospital (three to five days) and decreased recovery time.
- Percutaneous & Endoscopic
Because coronary bypass surgery is an open-heart surgery, you may have complications during or following your procedure. The most common complications of coronary bypass surgery are:
- Heart rhythm problems
Less common complications are:
- Heart attack, if a blood clot breaks loose soon after surgery
- Infection of the chest wound
- Kidney failure
- Memory loss or troubles with thinking clearly, which often go away within six to 12 months
- Need for repeat surgery
Your risk of developing these complications depends on your health before the surgery. Talk to your doctor to get a better idea of the likelihood of experiencing these risks.
Technology and expertise at Lee Health
Lee Health is active in providing less invasive approaches to bypass surgery.
Through endoscopic vein harvesting, we are able to remove veins that will be used for the bypass through small incisions that heal faster.
We also provide minimally-invasive bypass surgery which uses a smaller incision in your chest. This helps to speed healing and recovery.