Coronary arteries supply oxygenated blood to the heart, a process that is essential to healthy functioning of all the body's systems. Arteries that become clogged with cholesterol or that malfunction due to high blood pressure or diabetes can lead to major problems. Inadequate coronary artery functioning can result in chest pain, heart attacks, arrhythmia, and heart failure. In many cases, the only way to correct arterial functioning and prevent serious complications is to undergo coronary artery surgery, which may involve an angioplasty or one of three types of bypass procedures. With successful coronary artery surgery and healthy lifestyle choices, many people are able to recover from their symptoms, regain proper heart functioning, and enjoy normal activity levels.
An individual who is at risk of developing heart problems due to the buildup of cholesterol or another condition may be able to avoid coronary artery surgery by taking prescription medications to lower cholesterol and relieve hypertension. If such medications are ineffective, surgical intervention may be the only option. A common type of coronary artery surgery involves the insertion of a coronary stent in a procedure known as an angioplasty. In an angioplasty, a wire or plastic tube containing a balloon is inserted into a coronary artery. The balloon is inflated, which expands the stent, forces the artery to remain open, and allows for sufficient blood flow.
If an angioplasty does not produce results or immediate relief is needed, a surgeon may choose to conduct a type of bypass coronary artery surgery. The most common procedure is known as coronary artery bypass grafting, in which the surgeon cuts through the sternum and exposes the heart. He or she then temporarily stops the heart using a specialized type of anesthesia, connects a cardiopulmonary bypass pump to keep blood and oxygen flowing, and removes a nonessential artery from another part of the body, usually the internal thoracic artery from the chest. The damaged coronary artery is removed and the harvested artery is grafted in its place. Following the grafting procedure, the surgeon sutures the incisions and restarts the heart with electrical impulses.
Another type of bypass surgery does not involve stopping the heart. Instead, the heart is slowed and stabilized with drugs and excess blood is soaked up with sponges. The remainder of the procedure is similar to the traditional method of coronary artery bypass grafting. Other types of surgeries are being developed that allow surgeons to make small incisions and manipulate robotic instruments rather than opening the entire chest cavity.
Follow-up care after coronary artery surgery is essential to ensure that problems do not return. Cardiologists usually schedule regular checkups with their patients to monitor blood pressure, heart activity, and the effectiveness of surgical procedures. Most patients benefit from making positive lifestyle changes after surgery, such as quitting smoking, limiting their intake of alcohol, eating healthy foods, and engaging in regular exercise. With time and motivation, people frequently recover from arterial problems and benefit greatly from new, healthier choices.