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

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

No Link Between Bypass Surgery, Memory Loss

Underlying Heart Disease, Not Surgery, Linked to Subtle Mental Decline
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Oct.14, 2009 (Baltimore) -- Despite reports to the contrary, having bypass surgery to help your heart does not harm your brain, researchers report.

In a new study, no support was found for a link between heart bypass surgery and memory loss or other mental declines. The underlying heart disease that led patients to have heart bypass surgery was associated with memory loss, however.

"The good news is that the cognitive decline is very subtle, so subtle that people thought the changes were part of [the memory loss that accompanies] normal aging,” says Johns Hopkins School of Medicine neuropsychologist Ola A. Selnes, PhD.

The findings were presented at the annual meeting of the American Neurological Association (ANA).

Heart Bypass Surgery

Heart bypass surgery involves rerouting blood around clogged arteries to improve the supply of blood and oxygen to the heart.

Researchers from Duke University first raised concerns about the long-term impact of the surgery on memory and mental function in a highly publicized study eight years ago. The researchers reported that more than a third of patients with coronary artery disease still had measurable mental decline five years after having heart bypass surgery.

But the Duke researchers did not compare the bypass patients to people with coronary artery disease who underwent treatments other than bypass surgery or to healthy adults with no heart disease, Selnes says. So it was not clear if the mental declines were caused by the heart bypass surgery, the heart disease that prompted the surgery, or by natural aging.

The new study involved 69 heart-healthy people and 326 people with coronary artery disease. Coronary artery disease is usually caused by the buildup of plaque on the inside of the coronary arteries, the blood vessels that supply oxygen-rich blood to the heart muscle.

Of the 326, about half had bypass surgery, one-fourth took medications, and the rest underwent off-pump surgery in which the surgeon operates on the beating heart. β€œIt’s a very demanding operation,” Selnes says.

Plaque Buildup Probably Cause of Mental Decline

During four checks over the next four years, there were no significant differences in memory or other mental functions between the heart patients who had bypass, those who took medications, and those who had off-pump surgery.

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