What Is Coronary Bypass Surgery?

Updated:Feb 8,2013
Coronary artery bypass surgery (CABG) is a heart operation. It uses blood vessels taken from another part of your body to go around or “bypass” blocked or narrowed coronary (heart) arteries. The surgery helps people whose coronary arteries have become narrowed or blocked by fatty material called plaque. The bypass allows more blood and oxygen to flow to the heart muscle.

How do the arteries of your heart become blocked? Over time, fats, cholesterol and other substances can build up in the walls of your arteries to form a plaque. When the plaque breaks open and a blood clot forms, blood flow to your heart is blocked and can lead to chest discomfort called angina and to a heart attack.


How is it done?
  • Your doctor will take a blood vessel from your chest or from your leg.
  • One end is attached to your aorta (the large artery that comes out of the heart), and the other end is attached to the coronary artery below the point where it’s blocked.
  • Blood can now flow through the new channel to the heart.
  • You may have more than one coronary artery bypass done at a time, depending on how many arteries are blocked.
What is surgery like?
  • You will be asleep during the operation. It can take 3 to 6 hours.
  • After surgery, you go to an intensive care unit (ICU) for a few days.
  • Your family can visit you briefly in ICU.
What about after surgery?
  • You’ll wake up in ICU and may feel confused at first.
  • It’s busy in ICU and the lights are always on. It’s normal to lose track of time.
  • You’ll have a tube in your mouth and throat to help you breathe. It’s uncomfortable and you can’t talk with it, but nurses will help you communicate.
  • The breathing tube will stay in until you can breathe on your own — a few hours.
  • You’ll be hooked up to machines that monitor your heart rate and blood pressure for 12 to 24 hours. 
  • You’ll have an IV in your arm to deliver medicines that help control circulation and blood pressure.
     
What happens when I leave ICU?
  • You’ll move to a hospital room.
  • You’ll be sore.
  • You may have night sweats.
  • You may be given medicine.
  • You must breathe deeply and cough hard to clear the fluids in your lungs.
  • You’ll start to move and walk around right away.
  • You can eat normally and should feel better each day.
How can I learn more?

  1. Talk to your doctor, nurse or other healthcare professionals. If you have heart disease or have had a stroke, members of your family also may be at higher risk. It’s very important for them to make changes now to lower their risk.
  2. Call 1-800-AHA-USA1 (1-800-242-8721), or visit heart.org to learn more about heart disease.
  3. For information on stroke, call 1-888-4-STROKE (1-888-478-7653) or visit us online at StrokeAssociation.org.
We have many other fact sheets and educational booklets to help you make healthier choices to reduce your risk, manage disease or care for a loved one. Visit heart.org/answersbyheart to learn more.

Knowledge is power, so Learn and Live!

Do you have questions or comments for your doctor or nurse?

Take a few minutes to write your own questions for the next time you see your healthcare provider. For example:

When will my chest heal?

When can I go back to work?

©2012, American Heart Association

Multi-language Fact Sheet Topics

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What is an Arrhythmia?
What Is Atrial Fibrillation?
How Can I Lower High Cholesterol?
What Do My Cholesterol Levels Mean?
What Are High Blood Cholesterol and Triglycerides?
What Is High Blood Pressure?
How Can I Reduce High Blood Pressure?
High Blood Pressure and Stroke
What Is Diabetes and How Can I Manage It?
How Can I Live With Heart Failure?
What Is Heart Failure?
What Is a Heart Attack?
How Will I Recover From My Heart Attack?
What Are the Warning Signs of Heart Attack?
What Are Heart Disease and Stroke?
What is Metabolic Syndrome?
What is Peripheral Vascular Disease?

Stroke, Recovery and Caregiving
Hemorrhagic Stroke
Ischemic Stroke
What Are the Warning Signs of Stroke?
Lifestyle Changes to Prevent Stroke
Stroke Diagnosis
Changes Caused by Stroke
Emotional Changes After Stroke
Feeling Tired After a Stroke
Stroke and Rehabilitation
Stroke Family Caregivers
How Should I Care for Myself as a Caregiver?

Treatment, Tests and Procedures
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What is High Blood Pressure Medicine?
What Are Anticoagulants and Antiplatelet Agents?
What Is an Implantable Cardioverter Defibrillator?
What Is a Pacemaker?
What Is Coronary Angioplasty?
What is a Stent?
What is Coronary Bypass Surgery?
What is a Coronary Angiogram?
How Can I Recover From Heart Surgery?
What is Carotid Endarterectomy?

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Why Should I Be Physically Active?
How Do I Follow a Healthy Diet?
Why Should I Limit Sodium?
How Do I Read "Nutrition Facts" Labels?
How Can I Quit Smoking?
How Can I Manage Stress?
How Can I Make My Lifestyle Healthier?
How Can I Monitor My Cholesterol, Blood Pressure and Weight?