Coronary Artery Bypass Graft Surgery

Coronary arteries are blood vessels that supply the heart muscle with oxygen and nutrients. When one or more of the coronary arteries becomes narrow or blocked by fat deposits called plaque, the heart does not receive its needed blood supply. This is called ischemic heart disease or coronary artery disease (CAD).

Symptoms of CAD may include chest pain (angina) or shortness of breath. Certain patients such as diabetics may have no symptoms when their coronary arteries become blocked. The first symptom of CAD may be a heart attack (myocardial infarction).

Coronary artery bypass graft (also called CABG, pronounced “cabbage”) surgery creates a detour or bypass around the blocked or narrowed coronary artery to reestablish blood flow to the heart muscle. The bypass graft is created by using an artery or vein from the patient’s body.

As often as possible, the cardiac surgeons at Northwestern Medicine use arteries instead of veins to create the bypass around the blocked or narrowed coronary artery because research has shown that artery bypass grafts remain open longer than vein bypass grafts. Retrieving blood vessels from the body to create the bypass is performed using an endoscope. This instrument allows the vessel to be removed with about a one-inch incision. This minimally invasive approach of retrieving vessels results in less pain, faster healing and a reduced chance of infection.

CABG surgery does not prevent the recurrence of CAD. Lifestyle changes are needed to prevent new blockages and to maximize your benefits after CABG surgery.

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