Find Information About:

Drugs & Supplements

Get information and reviews on prescription drugs, over-the-counter medications, vitamins, and supplements. Search by name or medical condition.

Pill Identifier

Pill Identifier

Having trouble identifying your pills?

Enter the shape, color, or imprint of your prescription or OTC drug. Our pill identification tool will display pictures that you can compare to your pill.

Get Started
My Medicine

My Medicine

Save your medicine, check interactions, sign up for FDA alerts, create family profiles and more.

Get Started

WebMD Health Experts and Community

Talk to health experts and other people like you in WebMD's Communities. It's a safe forum where you can create or participate in support groups and discussions about health topics that interest you.

  • Second Opinion

    Second Opinion

    Read expert perspectives on popular health topics.

  • Community


    Connect with people like you, and get expert guidance on living a healthy life.

Got a health question? Get answers provided by leading organizations, doctors, and experts.

Get Answers

Sign up to receive WebMD's award-winning content delivered to your inbox.

Sign Up

Heart Disease Health Center

Font Size

Heart Surgery: Women's Hidden Risk

Infections May Raise Women's Death Rate After Heart Bypass Surgery
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Feb. 27, 2006 -- There's a new clue about why women are more likely than men to die after heart bypass surgery.

The finding, published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, isn't tied to the heart. Instead, it focuses on infections anywhere in the body.

The University of Michigan's Mary Rogers, PhD, and colleagues studied more than 9,200 Medicare patients in Michigan who had heart bypasses. Participants were followed for 100 days after surgery.

The results:

  • 16% of women had infections, compared to 10% of men.
  • Patients with infections had higher death rates after heart bypass.
  • Women's higher death rates after bypass surgery were largely explained by their higher prevalence of infection.

About the Operation

Heart bypass surgery, or coronary artery bypass graft surgery, is one of America's most common operations. Every year, more than half a million heart bypasses are done in the U.S., write Rogers and colleagues.

The goal of the operation is to do an end-run around blocked coronary arteries. The coronary arteries supply heart muscle with blood. When those arteries get narrow or clogged, blood can't get through.

In a bypass, doctors create an alternate route to restore blood flow to the heart muscle that should have been fed by the blocked artery. Surgeons take blood vessels from the patient's chest, legs, or arms and graft them into place. It's like building a new exit ramp off the main highway because the original road is blocked.

During hospitalization for heart bypass, women have a greater risk of death than men. The reasons for that gap aren't clear, the researchers write.

Other experts have studied artery size and other health problems as possible explanations. However, "this issue remains controversial," write Rogers and colleagues.

Infections in Women, Men

A small percentage of the patients in Roger's study were diagnosed with infections during their stay in the hospital (1,122 people, or about 12%).

Infections were more common among women than men, both in hospital and after being discharged from hospital. However, more infected men died than infected women.

For men, infection tripled the risk of dying in the 100 days after heart bypass surgery. For women, infection nearly doubled the risk of death during the same period.

No particular area of infection stood out. The most common infections involved the respiratory, urinary, and digestive tracts.

The data don't show when and how the infections started, and the findings should be confirmed, write Rogers and colleagues.

"Clearly, infection is an important factor when evaluating the association between sex and mortality after [heart bypass] surgery," they write.

In bypass patients, any infection is a "direct indicator of patient safety" that deserves "additional investigation" as a possible contributor to death, the researchers note.

Today on WebMD

x-ray of human heart
A visual guide.
atrial fibrillation
Symptoms and causes.
heart rate graph
10 things to never do.
heart rate
Get the facts.
empty football helmet
red wine
eating blueberries
Simple Steps to Lower Cholesterol
Inside A Heart Attack
Omega 3 Sources
Salt Shockers
lowering blood pressure