What is a Coronary Artery Bypass Graft?

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  • Written By: Nat Robinson
  • Edited By: J.T. Gale
  • Last Modified Date: 05 June 2019
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A coronary artery bypass graft (CABG) is a surgical procedure performed on the heart. The procedure enables the blood flow of narrowed or blocked heart arteries to be redirected. Arteries are rerouted by grafting or connecting a healthy artery or vein from another part of the body. Blocked portions of the coronary artery can be bypassed with a graft to enable the flow of oxygen-enriched blood directly to the heart.

The surgery generally is performed by a cardiothoracic surgeon. Coronary artery bypass grafting typically involves an incision down the front of the chest through the breastbone. A surgeon may take a healthy artery or vein from the chest, arm, or leg to be grafted to the damaged coronary artery. More than one coronary artery bypass graft may be needed if more than one artery is blocked or narrowed.

Also known as a coronary artery bypass, it may be one of the most common heart surgeries. One reason this procedure may be performed can be due to coronary artery disease (CAD). The blood vessels that supply the heart with nutrients and oxygen are known as the coronary arteries. If these arteries become blocked or narrowed, coronary artery disease may occur.


Doctors may suspect coronary artery disease if an individual has suggestive symptoms or familiar risk factors. Severe chest pain, shortness of breath, and in some incidences a heart attack may indicate coronary artery disease. Risk factors may include being diabetic, having high blood pressure, elevated cholesterol, or smoking cigarettes. Diagnostic tests such as an electrocardiogram (EKG), a stress test, or cardiac catheterization may be used to diagnose coronary artery disease.

Deposits of fat and cholesterol known as plaque in the arteries may be one cause of coronary artery disease. Blood vessels can become partially or completely blocked by a build-up of plaque. If this happens, the heart will not receive enough oxygen and nutrients from the coronary arteries. The purpose of a coronary artery bypass graft is to reroute the blood flow when there is a coronary artery blockage or narrowing.

Medications may be the initial step to alleviate coronary artery disease. Beta blockers, calcium blockers, and nitrates may be examples of commonly used medicines. If medications fail and the patient is a good candidate, an angioplasty may be considered next. This is a procedure where a small balloon is inserted in the coronary artery in attempt to inflate the blockage or narrowing.

If coronary artery disease does not improve with medication or an angioplasty, a coronary artery bypass graft may be the next option. The surgery may be a more suitable option for individuals with certain health conditions. Some people who have several blocked arteries, disease of the left main coronary artery, or a weakened heart muscle generally may better benefit from this procedure than other methods.

Recovery may include physical therapy, diet counseling, and blood thinners that could reduce the risk of developing blood clots. Lifestyle changes also may be suggested. These changes can include controlling blood pressure and cholesterol, reducing body weight, and eliminating smoking.

Many people may have sustained relief after having a coronary artery bypass graft. A successful surgery can strengthen blood flow to the heart, reduce other possible heart problems, and alleviate symptoms of coronary artery disease. Cardiologists or cardiac surgeons may decide which candidates are most suitable for this procedure. The benefits of the procedure as well as alternative options may be ideal points of discussion upon consultation.



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