Heart bypass surgery is a procedure whereby a doctor creates an alternate route for blood to get to the heart, literally bypassing blocked arteries. Typically, a vein or artery is taken from another part of your body during the operation.
Between 2 per cent and 4 per cent of all heart bypass surgery patients die on the operating table. In these cases, since there has been no successful bypass performed, they are not counted into the survival statistics going forward.
If the heart muscle is healthy, a bypass patient can expect to live as long as a normal population sample that has not had a heart attack. If there is damage to the left ventricle (the main pumping chamber), life expectancy is less.
The Veteran's Administration Cooperative Coronary Surgery Study found that life expectancy improved only in those with severe left main artery disease. After four years, the high-risk subgroup showed an 87 per cent survival rate versus 74 per cent for other treatments.
When the VA took into account all patients, the difference in survival rate between electing heart bypass surgery versus medical treatment was minimal--86 per cent to 85 per cent.
In general, average life expectancy for high-risk patients after heart bypass is 10 to 15 years. This number is greatly affected by age at the time of surgery, previous health, and lifestyle choices relating to diet and exercise.