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Coronary bypass surgery is a medical process that allows blood to flow directly to your heart even though you have blocked arteries. The surgery uses a blood vessel from your arm, chest, abdomen or leg and connects it to other arteries in your heart area. This ensures the blood bypasses the blocked or diseased area of your heart. Coronary bypass surgery is one of several ways to treat heart disease. It can also be called coronary artery bypass graft (CABG or "cabbage") surgery, since the process of connecting your alternate artery is called grafting. There are an estimated 800,000 CABGs performed throughout the world every year. The grafts, if successful, tend to last 10 to 15 years.
How Does It Work?
The surgery usually takes between three and six hours to complete. Typically, the surgeons will fix two to four coronary arteries. This number depends on how severe and the location of the blockages in your heart. You are rendered unconscious by the anaesthetist and mechanical ventilation begins. The surgeon will make an incision in the chest, down the centre along the breastbone. The rib cage is spread open and the heart is exposed. The surgical team temporarily stops the heart and a heart-lung machine controls the blood circulation to your body for the duration of the surgery. The healthy vein is grafted and the blood flow is diverted around the problematic part of the diseased artery. The process is repeated until all possible blockages are diverted. The surgery can also be done as an off-pump (heart still beating) or as minimally invasive (smaller incision). After all grafts have been completed, the heart-lung machine is turned off and the heart begins to beat again. The chest is sealed up and you are taken to the intensive care unit for one to two days of close monitoring. After it has been determined that there were no immediate complications, you are transferred to the nurse's unit, where you remain for the next three to five days.
After the Surgery
Full recovery from the surgery takes about eight weeks, but everybody heals differently and the doctor is the best judge of when everything can resume as normal. Since CABG is not a cure-all, there will be many recommendations for changes in your lifestyle after the surgery. For example, quitting smoking, eating a heart-healthy diet, controlling stress, exercising regularly and treating high cholesterol. For a full scope of what you can do to keep your heart healthy, contact the American Heart Association.
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