Coronary Artery Bypass Graft (cont.)

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How do patients recover after CABG surgery?

Sutures are removed from the chest prior to discharge and from the leg (if the saphenous vein is used) after 7 to 10 days. Even though smaller leg veins will take over the role of the saphenous vein, a certain degree of swelling (edema) in the affected ankle is common. Patients are advised to wear elastic support stockings during the day for the first four to six weeks after surgery and to keep their leg elevated when sitting. This swelling usually resolves after about six to eight weeks. Healing of the breastbone takes about six weeks and is the primary limitation in recovering from CABG surgery. Patients are advised not to lift anything more than 10 pounds or perform heavy exertion during this healing period. They are also advised not to drive for the first four weeks to avoid any injury to the chest. Patients can return to normal sexual activity as long as they minimize positions that put significant weight on the chest or upper arms. Return to work usually occurs after the six week recovery, but may be much sooner for non-strenuous employment.

Exercise stress testing is routinely done four to six weeks after CABG surgery and signals the beginning of a cardiac rehabilitation program. Rehabilitation consists of a 12 week program of gradually increasing monitored exercise lasting one hour three times a week. Patients are also counseled about the importance of lifestyle changes to lower their chance of developing further CAD. These include stopping smoking, reducing weight and dietary fat, controlling blood pressure and diabetes, and lowering blood cholesterol levels.

What are the risks and complications of CABG surgery?

Overall mortality related to CABG is 3-4%. During and shortly after CABG surgery, heart attacks occur in 5 to 10% of patients and are the main cause of death. About 5% of patients require exploration because of bleeding. This second surgery increases the risk of chest infection and lung complications. Stroke occurs in 1-2%, primarily in elderly patients. Mortality and complications increase with:

  • age (older than 70 years),
  • poor heart muscle function,
  • disease obstructing the left main coronary artery,
  • diabetes,
  • chronic lung disease, and
  • chronic kidney failure.

Mortality may be higher in women, primarily due to their advanced age at the time of CABG surgery and smaller coronary arteries. Women develop coronary artery disease about 10 years later than men because of hormonal "protection" while they still regularly menstruate (although in women with risk factors for coronary artery disease, especially smoking, elevated lipids, and diabetes, the possibility for the development of coronary artery disease at a young age is very real). Women are generally of smaller stature than men, with smaller coronary arteries. These small arteries make CABG surgery technically more difficult and prolonged. The smaller vessels also decrease both short and long-term graft function.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 2/5/2014

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