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What is heart bypass surgery?

A heart bypass surgery (also called ‘coronary artery bypass surgery’ or ‘coronary artery bypass graft - CABG’) is an operation to treat coronary heart disease. The heart bypass operation is performed to reduce the risk of heart attack and angina (chest pain). This article details some facts about a heart bypass operation.

What is bypass surgery?

Over the course of a person’s life, deposits of fats (other causes being smoking, diabetes, hypertension) cause narrowness and blockage (partially or totally) of coronary arteries that pump blood to the heart muscle. To treat these blockages, a cardiac surgeon takes a blood vessel and makes a bridge over (bypass) the narrowed artery, thereby improving blood flow to the heart. If the heart surgeons repair two arteries, it is called double bypass surgery, if three are repaired, it is called triple bypass surgery and if four are repaired, it is termed as quadruple bypass surgery. What happens during the bypass operation? The CABG usually takes about three to six hours (under general anesthesia) depending on the number of blocked arteries. The cardiac surgeon makes an incision down the middle of your breastbone thereby exposing the heart and aorta. The leg (saphenous) vein, radial artery in the wrist or internal mammary artery from your chest is taken and one corner of this is connected to the aorta and the other corner is attached to the coronary artery beyond (making a bypass) the narrowed/blocked area. Usually the heart is stopped temporarily during this operation using medication and is connected to a heart-lung bypass machine that pumps blood through out your body. In case you have problems with the heart-lung machine, a new technique called ‘off-pump coronary artery bypass’ or OPCAB is used where the bypass is created while the heart beats. After the operation, the breastbone is closed with wires which remain inside and the surgical incision is sewn with stitches.

After heart surgery recovery

You will be kept in the hospital for five to seven days with the first 1-2 days in the intensive treatment unit (ITU). Though you should be able to walk after the first few days, you may have symptoms of tiredness and weakness. Painkillers are given and some patients are recommended to attend a cardiac rehabilitation program. Avoid heavy activities like pushing and picking up weights; and take extra care of sutures to prevent infection. You will recover completely within 12 weeks. Risks: Though risks are low, CABG bears a risk of blood clotting, breathing problems, infection in lungs or chest wound, heart attack, kidney failure, memory loss or irregular heartbeat. If you have severe pain, blood or pus coming out of the wound or a high temperature, consult your doctor immediately.

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