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- Coronary artery bypass graft facts
- What is coronary artery bypass graft (CABG) surgery?
- How does coronary artery disease develop?
- How is coronary artery disease diagnosed?
- How is coronary artery disease (CAD) treated?
- How is CABG surgery done?
- How do patients recover after CABG surgery?
- What are the risks and complications of CABG surgery?
- What are the long-term results after CABG surgery?
- How do CABG surgery and angioplasty (PTCA) compare?
How is CABG surgery done?
The cardiac surgeon makes an incision down the middle of the chest and then saws through the breastbone (sternum). This procedure is called a median (middle) sternotomy (cutting of the sternum). The heart is cooled with iced salt water, while a preservative solution is injected into the heart arteries. This process minimizes damage caused by reduced blood flow during surgery and is referred to as "cardioplegia." Before bypass surgery can take place, a cardiopulmonary bypass must be established. Plastic tubes are placed in the right atrium to channel venous blood out of the body for passage through a plastic sheeting (membrane oxygenator) in the heart lung machine. The oxygenated blood is then returned to the body. The main aorta is clamped off (cross clamped) during CABG surgery to maintain a bloodless field and to allow bypasses to be connected to the aorta.
The most commonly used vessel for the bypass is the saphenous vein from the leg. Bypass grafting involves sewing the graft vessels to the coronary arteries beyond the narrowing or blockage. The other end of this vein is attached to the aorta. Chest wall arteries, particularly the left internal mammary artery, are now commonly used as bypass grafts. This artery is separated from the chest wall and usually connected to the left anterior descending artery and/or one of its major branches beyond the blockage. The major advantage of using internal mammary arteries is that they tend to remain open longer than venous grafts. Ten years after CABG surgery, only 66% of vein grafts are open compared to 90% of internal mammary arteries. However, artery grafts are of limited length, and can only be used to bypass diseases located near the beginning (proximal) of the coronary arteries. Using internal mammary arteries may prolong CABG surgery because of the extra time needed to separate them from the chest wall. Therefore, internal mammary arteries may not be used for emergency CABG surgery when time is critical to restore coronary artery blood flow.
CABG surgery takes about four hours to complete. The aorta is clamped off for about 60 minutes and the body is supported by cardiopulmonary bypass for about 90 minutes. The use of 3 (triple), 4 (quadruple), or 5 (quintuple) bypasses are now routine. At the end of surgery, the sternum is wired together with stainless steel and the chest incision is sewn closed. Plastic tubes (chest tubes) are left in place to allow drainage of any remaining blood from the space around the heart (mediastinum). About 5% of patients require exploration within the first 24 hours because of continued bleeding after surgery. Chest tubes are usually removed the day after surgery. The breathing tube is usually removed shortly after surgery. Patients usually get out of bed and are transferred out of intensive care the day after surgery. Up to 25% of patients develop heart rhythm disturbances within the first three or four days after CABG surgery. These rhythm disturbances are usually temporary atrial fibrillation, and are felt to be related to surgical trauma to the heart. Most of these arrhythmias respond to standard medical therapy that can be weaned one month after surgery. The average length of stay in the hospital for CABG surgery has been reduced from as long as a week to only three to four days in most patients. Many young patients can even be discharged home after two days.
A new advance for many patients is the ability to do CABG without going on cardiopulmonary bypass ("off pump"), with the heart still beating. This may significantly minimize the occasional memory defects and other complications that may be seen after CABG, and is a significant advance.