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What is Coronary Artery Bypass Graft Surgery?

written by: R. Elizabeth C. Kitchen • edited by: Emma Lloyd • updated: 9/26/2009

This article will define and explain the elements of coronary artery bypass graft surgery.

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    Coronary artery bypass graft surgery is one of the most common major operations performed in the United States. Nearly 500,000 people every year have this operation performed. This surgery is performed to create new routes around blocked and narrowed arteries so that sufficient blood flow can deliver nutrients and oxygen to the heart muscle.

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    Purpose and Procedure

    The purpose of this operation is to eliminate blockages within arteries and to widen narrow arteries. During the operation the patient is put to sleep under general anesthesia. The aorta is clamped off and then the bypass begins. The saphenous vein from the leg is the most commonly used vessel during this operation. The surgeon will do the bypass graft by sewing the coronary arteries to the graft vessels beyond the blockage or narrowing. Depending on the severity a patient may receive a triple, quadruple or even a quintuple bypass. Once the surgery is complete the surgeon will wire the sternum together and sew the chest incision closed.

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    Most patients recover well with a hospital stay of seven to ten days, for observation and to allow time for the patient to heal. Prior to being released the sutures in their leg and the sutures in their chest will be removed. Many patients will experience a swollen ankle while the smaller veins in the legs begin to take over for the saphenous vein. Patients should weak supportive elastic stockings for six weeks after the surgery during the day, but they should take them off when they sleep or shower. It typically takes six to eight weeks for the ankle swelling to subside. Most patients are able to return to work after six weeks as well as resume exercise. Patients will attend rehabilitation for several weeks after surgery as well. The twelve week program will be started approximately six weeks after the surgery and is referred to as cardiac rehabilitation.

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    Risks and Complications

    Approximately three to four percent of patients do live through a coronary artery bypass graft surgery and approximately five to ten percent of patients will experience a heart attack shortly after having the surgery performed (Medicine Net). Complications are more prevalent in those over seventy years of age, those who have a main left artery obstruction, those whose heart muscle functions poorly, those with chronic kidney failure, those with chronic lung disease and those with diabetes.

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    Medicine Net. 2009. Coronary Artery Bypass Graft Surgery. Retrieved on September 25, 2009 from Website: