Heart bypass surgery is done to open blocked arteries in the heart that interfere with the organ’s function in people who have cardiovascular disease.
It’s the most common heart surgery done in the United States, with more than 500,000 performed each year, according to the University of Michigan Health System
“During coronary artery bypass graft surgery (also called CABG, or "cabbage"), a blood vessel is removed or redirected from one area of the body and placed around the area or areas of narrowing in order to ‘bypass’ the blockages and restore blood flow to the heart muscle,” according to WebMD
. “This vessel is called a graft.”
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Grafts are taken from the patient’s chest, legs, or arms.
While doing a heart bypass procedure may save a patient’s life, the procedure is not without risks.
Along with risks typical of any surgical procedure, such as blood loss or infection, risks specific to coronary bypass surgery include, according to WebMD:
• Infection in the chest, which can be more likely if the patient is obese, has diabetes, or has previously had this surgery.
• Heart attack or stroke.
• Heart rhythm problems.
• Kidney or lung failure.
• Low fever and chest pain, together called post-pericardiotomy syndrome, which can last up to 6 months.
• Memory loss, loss of mental clarity, or "fuzzy thinking"
The University of Michigan Health System also said the use of a heart-lung machine, which oxygenates the patient’s blood while his or her heart is stopped during the procedure, can cause complications.
Memory loss or difficulty concentrating may occur in some people and is more likely to happen in older individuals, those who have high blood pressure or lung disease, or those who drink excessive amounts of alcohol, UMHS said.
Using the machine also can increase the chance of blood clots, which could travel to other parts of the body and block blood flow, causing strokes, UMHS said.
“Recent technical improvements in heart-lung machines are helping to reduce the risk of blood clots forming,” the university website said.
Risks are higher, in general, UMHS said, when the heart bypass procedure is done in an emergency situation. Other diseases, such as diabetes, kidney disease or lung disease can also increase risk.
This article is for information only and is not intended as medical advice. Talk with your doctor about your specific health and medical needs.
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