A coronary artery bypass graft (CABG) is a surgery to restore blood flow to the heart muscle. This is done by using blood vessels from other parts of the body to make a new route for blood to flow around blocked coronary (heart) arteries.
Coronary Artery Bypass Surgery
Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.
Reasons for Procedure
Atherosclerosis is a disease of the arteries. Cholesterol and fatty deposits build up on the walls of the arteries and restricts blood flow. When the buildup happens in the heart, it may lead to chest pain, called angina, or a heart attack. Lifestyle changes and medications can be used to treat atherosclerosis. When the blockage gets too severe, CABG is done to re-establish blood supply to the heart muscle. It is often recommended in cases of:
- Severe blockage in the main artery or in several blood vessels that supply blood to the heart
- Persistent angina that does not improve with other treatments
Problems from the procedure are rare, but all procedures have some risk. Your doctor will review potential problems, like:
- Blood clots
- High blood pressure or low blood pressure
- Damage to other organs, such as the kidneys
- Irregular heart rate
Some factors that may increase the risk of complications include:
What to Expect
Prior to Procedure
Your doctor will likely do the following:
Talk to your doctor about your medication. You may need to stop taking certain medication for one week before surgery.
Your doctor may also ask you to:
- Eat a light meal the night before. Do not eat or drink anything after midnight.
- Arrange for a ride to and from the hospital.
- Arrange for help at home after the procedure.
General anesthesia will be given. You will be asleep during the procedure.
Description of Procedure
An incision will be made through the skin. The breastbone will be split to open the chest. A heart-lung machine will be connected. Since the heart needs to be stopped for the surgery, this machine will act as the heart and lungs.
An artery will be taken from the chest wall. Or, a section of vein will be removed from the leg. This section will be used as the bypass. Once the heart is stopped, the new vessels will be connected (grafted) to the blocked arteries. One end will be attached just above the blockage. The other end will be attached just below the blockage. When the grafts are in place, the heart will be allowed to “wake up.” Electrical shocks may be needed in some cases to regulate the heart’s rhythm. The heart-lung machine will be disconnected. Temporary tubes may be placed in your chest to help drain any fluid. The breastbone will be wired together. The chest will be closed with stitches or staples.
There is a less invasive approach, called minimally invasive coronary artery surgery. The purpose of this surgery is the same, but the technique and condition of the patient are different. Patients who have only one or two clogged arteries may be candidates for this approach. In this technique, a small incision is made in the chest. The doctor usually uses an artery from inside the chest for the bypass. The key difference in this technique is that the doctor performs the surgery while the heart is beating. With this technique, the heart-lung machine is not needed. If you need CABG, your doctor will carefully evaluate you to determine the best technique for you.
Immediately After Procedure
You will be monitored in the intensive care unit, where you will have the following interventions:
- Heart monitor
- Pacing wires to control heart rate
- Tubes connected to a machine to drain fluids from the wound
- Breathing tube or an oxygen mask
- Catheter inserted to drain the bladder
How Long Will It Take?
How Much Will It Hurt?
Anesthesia prevents pain during surgery. You may be given medication for any pain during recovery.
Average Hospital Stay
At the Hospital
- To reduce the risk of fluid buildup in your lungs, breathe deeply and cough 10-20 times every hour.
- If a leg vein was removed, elevate your legs above your heart while sitting. Do not cross your legs.
- Efforts will be made to get you out of bed and walking as soon as possible.
- Dressings will be removed in 1-2 days. Pacing wires and chest tubes will be removed after a few days.
During your stay, the hospital staff will take steps to reduce your chance of infection such as:
- Washing their hands
- Wearing gloves or masks
- Keeping your incisions covered
There are also steps you can take to reduce your chances of infection such as:
- Washing your hands often and reminding visitors and healthcare providers to do the same
- Reminding your healthcare providers to wear gloves or masks
- Not allowing others to touch your incisions
You will have reduced activities during your recovery. A cardiac rehabilitation program will be arranged. You may need to work with a dietitian for a special diet. Recovery may include:
- Medications to control pain and heart disease
- Wound care to prevent infection
- Checking your weight every morning
Bypass surgery does not cure heart disease. The grafted blood vessels can also become clogged. You will be encouraged to make healthy lifestyle changes.
Call Your Doctor
It is important for you to monitor your recovery after you leave the hospital. Alert your doctor to any problems right away. If any of the following occur, call your doctor:
- Pain that you cannot control with the medication you’ve been given
- Signs of infection, including fever and chills
- Redness, swelling, increasing pain, excessive bleeding, or discharge at the incision sites
- Persistent nausea and/or vomiting
- Cough, shortness of breath, or chest pain
- Pain, burning, urgency, frequency of urination, or persistent blood in the urine
- Gaining more than 4 pounds within 1-2 days
- Pain and/or swelling in your feet, calves, or legs, or sudden shortness of breath or chest pain
If you think you have an emergency, call for medical help right away.
National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov
Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada http://www.heartandstroke.com/
Updated September 3, 2012. Accessed September 17, 2012.
Coronary artery bypass graft surgery. Cardio Smart website. Available at: https://www.cardiosmart.org/Healthwise/hw10/1095/hw101095. Accessed September 17, 2012.
Explore coronary artery bypass grafting. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute website. Available at:
Updated February 23, 2012. Accessed September 17, 2012.
12/3/2010 DynaMed’s Systematic Literature Surveillance
Morone NE, Weiner DK, et al. The impact of pain and depression on recovery after coronary artery bypass grafting. Psychosom Med. 2010;72:620-625.
Last Updated: 12/20/2014