The arteries that bring blood to the heart muscle (coronary arteries) can become clogged by plaque (a buildup of fat, cholesterol plus other substances). This can then slow or stop blood flow through the heart’s blood vessels, leading to chest pain or a heart attack. Increasing blood flow to the heart muscle can relieve chest pain and also reduce the risk of heart attack.
Surgeons take a segment of a healthy blood vessel from another part of the body, and then make a detour around the blocked part of the coronary artery. An artery may be detached from the chest wall and the open end attached to the coronary artery below the blocked area. Or a piece of a long vein in your leg may be taken. One end is sewn onto the large artery leaving your heart – the aorta. The other end of the vein is attached or “grafted” to the coronary artery below the blocked area.
Either way, blood can then utilize use this new path to flow freely to the heart muscle.
A patient may undergo one, two, three or more bypass grafts, depending on how many coronary arteries are blocked.
Cardiopulmonary bypass with a pump oxygenator (heart-lung machine) is used for most coronary bypass graft operations. This means that besides the surgeon, a team made up of a cardiac anesthesiologist and surgical nurse, a competent perfusionist (blood flow specialist) are required.
What happens after bypass surgery?
After surgery, the patient is moved to a hospital bed in the cardiac surgical intensive care unit. Heart rate and blood pressure monitoring devices continuously monitor the patient for 12 to 24 hours.