What Is Bypass Cardiac Surgery?

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  • Written By: Marlene Garcia
  • Edited By: Daniel Lindley
  • Last Modified Date: 07 June 2018
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Bypass cardiac surgery uses a blood vessel from another part of a person’s body, creating a graft to divert blood flow around a blocked coronary artery. The operation usually restores adequate blood supply to the heart and reduces the risk of heart attack. Bypass surgery can correct one or more blocked arteries.

Coronary arteries might become blocked with plaque, a fatty substance that reduces the amount of oxygen-rich blood that reaches the heart. Heart surgeons call the condition ischemic heart disease or coronary artery disease. Patients might notice chest pain and shortness of breath as signs that bypass cardiac surgery is needed.

During bypass cardiac surgery, the surgeon makes a long incision in the patient’s chest and separates the breastbone to gain access to the heart and aorta. A vein is taken from another part of the body, commonly from the leg, for use as the graft. One end of the vein is connected above or below the blocked heart artery, while the other is stitched onto the aorta. This graft bypasses the blockage by creating a detour.

Patients are usually hooked to a heart-lung machine because the heart is stopped during bypass cardiac surgery. The machine adds oxygen to the blood and moves it throughout the body to mimic the normal action of the heart. In patients who might suffer problems on the heart-lung machine, bypass cardiac surgery is done while the heart continues to beat.


After bypass cardiac surgery, patients typically recover in a special cardiac intensive care unit, where they are connected to several machines. Nurses keep a close watch on breathing, pulse, and temperature monitors for the first 24 hours after surgery. Drainage tubes in the chest remove excess fluid that might build up around the heart during the next few days. Most bypass cardiac surgery patients remain in the hospital up to a week.

They usually participate in cardiac rehabilitation while in the hospital and after returning home. Rehab helps the patient regain strength and return to normal activities during the recovery process. It usually includes information on healthy eating, exercise, and stress management to reduce the risk of heart disease. If poor health habits remain unchanged, the grafted vein could become blocked over time. Patients are commonly advised to keep cholesterol low and adhere to a low-fat diet.

Risks associated with bypass cardiac surgery include heart attack or stroke during the procedure. Some patients also suffer irregular heart rhythm after this operation. Other risks include loss of memory or confused thinking, and infection at the site of the chest or leg incisions.



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