What Is Coronary Bypass Surgery?

Updated:May 16,2017
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 plaque. When the plaque breaks open and a blood clot forms, blood flow to your heart is blocked. This 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 arm.
  • 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. The length of time depends on what has to be done.
  • 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.
  • 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 is usually taken out within 24 hours after the operation.
  • 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 for about a week, depending on the type of surgery you had..
  • You’ll be sore.
  • You may have night sweats.
  • 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.
  • You may be given medicines.

What medicines may I be prescribed?
You may be prescribed dual antiplatelet therapy (DAPT). This means that you may treated with two types of antiplatelet agents to prevent future risks of blood clots and bleeding.

  • Aspirin. Almost everyone that has CABG surgery will be treated with aspirin for the rest of their lives.
  • P2Y12 Inhibitor. You may be prescribed one of three P2Y12 inhibitors -- clopidogrel, prasugrel, or ticagrelor.  You’ll likely be on this medication for a year after the surgery. After this, it may be stopped, but you will continue on aspirin therapy.

In addition to DAPT, you may be prescribed additional medications as well.

How can I learn more?
  1. Call 1-800-AHA-USA1 (1-800-242-8721), or visit heart.org to learn more about heart disease and stroke.
  2. Sign up to get Heart Insight, a free magazine for heart patients and their families, at heartinsight.org.
  3. Connect with others sharing similar journeys with heart disease and stroke by joining our Support Network at heart.org/supportnetwork.
We have many other fact sheets 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.

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?

©2017, American Heart Association

Multi-language Fact Sheet Topics

Heart-related Conditions
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What is an Arrhythmia?
What Is Atrial Fibrillation?
What Do My Cholesterol Levels Mean?
How Can I Improve My Cholesterol?
What Are High Blood Cholesterol and Triglycerides?
What Is High Blood Pressure?
How Can I Reduce High Blood Pressure?
High Blood Pressure and Stroke
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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?
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What is Peripheral Artery Disease?

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

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What Are Anticoagulants and Antiplatelet Agents?
How Do I Manage My Medicines?
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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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How Can Physical Activity Become a Way of Life?
Why Should I Be Physically Active?
How Do I Follow a Healthy Diet?
How Can I Cook Healthfully?
Why Should I Limit Sodium?
How Do I Understand "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?