CABG surgery (often pronounced “cabbage”) is the most commonly performed heart operation in the United States. A cardiothoracic surgeon will make an incision down the front of your chest, through your breastbone or sternum. This incision is called a median sternotomy, and it enables the surgeon to see your heart and aorta.
The operation is designed to bypass the blockages in your coronary arteries in order to restore blood flow to your heart. Some patients need only one bypass graft, but most people who are candidates for CABG have blockages in several of their coronary arteries and may need between three and five bypass grafts.
During the operation, your surgeon will take a healthy blood vessel (artery or vein from your body), usually from your leg, arm, chest or abdomen, and connect it to the other arteries (usually the aorta) in your heart. This enables blood flow to “bypass,” or go around, the diseased or blocked portion of your coronary artery, creating a new path for blood flow to your heart.
A heart-lung machine (sometimes called “the pump”) typically is used during the operation. The machine temporarily takes over the function of your heart and lungs during surgery to maintain blood circulation and oxygen flow through your body. After the surgery is completed, you will be taken off the pump, and your heart and lungs will resume normal function. Some surgeons prefer to do the surgery without the heart-lung machine, which is called “off-pump.” Your cardiothoracic surgeon will tell you the technique that will be used for your individual operation and provide additional detail.
CABG surgery generally takes between 3 and 6 hours and requires that you be put under general anesthesia. Following surgery, you likely will spend one night in an intensive care unit followed by another 3 to 5 days in the hospital before going home.
Although it is possible for symptoms to recur after surgery, many people remain symptom-free for as long as 10 or 15 years. CABG surgery also can lower your risk of having a heart attack.
CABG has been proven to be safe and effective, but like all heart procedures, it can result in serious complications. The chance of a major complication (stroke, heart attack, kidney damage, bleeding, etc.) depends on your age and overall health going into the operation. Although CABG can be performed safely in patients in their late 80s and early 90s, risk for complication increases with age. Many patients also may require blood transfusions during or after the operation.