Imagine you’re on a highway. An accident causes traffic to pile up ahead. Emergency crews redirect cars around the congestion. Finally, you’re able to get back on the road and the route is clear.
If you need heart bypass surgery, the procedure is pretty similar. A surgeon takes blood vessels from another part of your body to go around, or bypass, a blocked artery. The result is that more blood and oxygen can flow to your heart again.
It can help lower your risk for a heart attack and other problems. Once you recover, you’ll feel better and be able to get back to your regular activities.
Bypass surgery is also known as coronary artery bypass grafting (CABG). It’s the most common type of open-heart surgery in the U.S. Most people have great results and live symptom-free for a decade or more.
Why Do I Need It?
Bypass surgery treats symptoms of coronary heart disease. That happens when a waxy substance called plaque builds up inside the arteries in your heart and blocks blood and oxygen from reaching it. You may feel things like:
How Does It Work?
A surgeon removes a blood vessel, called a graft, from another part of your body, like your chest, leg, or arm. He attaches one end of it to your aorta, a large artery that comes out of your heart. Then, he attaches the other end to an artery below the blockage.
The graft creates a new route for blood to travel to your heart. If you have multiple blockages, your surgeon may do one or more bypass procedures during the same surgery.
You’ll be asleep the whole time, about 3 to 6 hours on average.
What Happens After Surgery?
You’ll wake up in an intensive care unit (ICU). You’ll have a tube in your mouth to help you breathe. You won’t be able to talk and will feel uncomfortable. Nurses will be there to help you. They’ll remove the tube after a few hours, when you can breathe on your own.
You’ll also be hooked up to machines that monitor your vital signs, like your heart rate and blood pressure, around the clock. You’ll stay in the ICU for a few days before being moved to a hospital room. You’ll stay there for about 3 to 5 days before you go home.
What Will the Recovery Be Like?
It’s a gradual process. You may feel worse right after surgery than you did before. This is normal. Your body needs time to recover, but you’ll feel better each day.
You won’t be fully healed for about 2 months. Be sure to follow your doctor’s instructions.
You may not be able to drive for 3 to 8 weeks.
You’ll visit your doctor several times during the first few months to track your progress. Call him if your symptoms don’t improve or you’re feeling worse.
What Are the Risks?
All surgeries come with the chance of problems. Some of the possible ones include:
- Heart rhythm irregularities (arrythmia)
- Kidney problems
- Infection and bleeding at the incision
- Memory loss
- Reactions to anesthesia
Once you’ve recovered, your symptoms of angina will be gone or much better. You’ll be able to be more active, and you’ll have a lower risk of getting a heart attack. Best of all, the surgery can add years to your life.