Author: Dr. Michael Kralik
Answer: During the course of our lifetime, we accumulate plaque and blockages inside of our arteries. This aging process is accelerated if we are overweight if we smoke cigarettes, if our blood pressure is elevated, or if we suffer from diabetes. Blockages inside the arteries can limit blood supply and oxygen delivery to the heart. This can result in symptoms such as chest pain, or even damage to the heart muscle.
Coronary Artery Bypass Surgery involves rerouting blood flow around the blockages in arteries on the surface of the heart. The tubes that reroute the blood are taken from the same patient. Leg veins and chest wall arteries are harvested and sewn to the heart arteries on the other side of the blockages. In order to achieve this, the chest must be opened and general anesthesia is used to keep the patient asleep. Once the surgery is completed, blood flow to the heart muscle can improve significantly, leading to the resolution of symptoms.
Anesthesia and surgery with potential blood loss can be difficult for some patients to tolerate. For most, however, the operation is safe with excellent results. Following the operation, one can expect to stay a day or two in the intensive care unit, and possibly another three to four days for monitoring in the hospital. The risk of complications, including death, is in the one to two percent range.
After surgery, upper extremity activity is limited for four weeks while the chest incision heals, but lifting light objects and walking can already be resumed while in the hospital. The best thing about heart surgery is that the patients can generally get back to work and resume their usual activity level. The results of the operation are long-lasting and only a small number of patients require any additional procedures for their heart artery blockages.