What Are the Potential CABG Complications?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Potential problems associated with a coronary artery bypass graft (CABG) include issues like scarring, failure of the sternum to heal, temporary memory impairment, and infection. Additional CABG complications are excess bleeding, heart arrythmias, heart attack or stroke, and death. People may also have adverse reactions to anesthesia or develop blood clotting in the legs. Some patients are more likely to develop complications than others, and it should be noted that many individuals undergo this surgery with great success, though they may require further interventions in the future.

A CABG procedure may be used to bypass damaged areas of the coronary artery in the heart.
A CABG procedure may be used to bypass damaged areas of the coronary artery in the heart.

Virtually all people experience CABG complications like scarring since this is an open chest procedure that requires breaking of the sternum. A small percentage of patients do not heal well at the sternal site, and they might need additional measures like re-breaking and rewiring the sternum. Sometimes this failure to heal results from infections of the sternal incision, but roughly 5% of individuals get infections and not all of them have difficulty with chest healing. Whether or not a person has an infection, lingering chronic pain conditions can sometimes affect the chest.

Individuals should also be aware that CABG complications include the necessity of having future surgeries. The grafts put in place may last from 8-15 years. This means that ultimately a second or even third surgery to replace the grafts may be required.

Anther of the possible CABG complications is memory loss. Though this is not common, some people experience minor to moderate cognitive impairment after heart surgery. This condition is very often transient and generally does not last above a year.

Some of the more severe CABG complications are excess bleeding, heart arrythmias, heart attack, and stroke. Heart arrythmias may be permanent and could necessitate placement of a pacemaker or a defibrillator. Up to 10% of patients may have a heart attack during the surgery or after it, while about 2% experience a stroke. After surgery, the development of conditions like deep vein thrombosis, or blood clotting in the legs, can also elevate chances of a stroke, and many patients take anticoagulant medications to reduce this potential risk.

Any form of surgery that utilizes general anesthesia is potentially dangerous. Patients may have adverse or allergic reactions to anesthetics that are sometimes fatal. Death can also occur due to heart attacks, strokes, or a failed procedure. It’s estimated that the survival rate of CABG is approximately 96-97%, and thus mortality results 3-4% of the time.

Some patients are inherently more at risk for CABG complications. Severely ill individuals, and those over the age of 70 are in a higher risk group. Women, because they are often older and have smaller cardiac structures, have a greater likelihood of all complications. Moreover, diabetics, individuals with kidney disease, smokers, and those with significantly impaired heart function fall into an elevated risk group. The benefits of doing this surgery are still generally significant, but some people are steered toward alternatives like angioplasty procedures, which cause less stress to the heart and body.

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent wiseGEEK contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

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