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 - Northwestern Memorial Hospital - Chicago

Coronary Artery Bypass Surgery

Coronary arteries are blood vessels that supply the heart muscle with oxygen and nutrients. In atherosclerosis deposits of fat, cholesterol, and calcium build up inside the artery. These deposits are called plaque. Like the inside of a rusty water pipe, the wall of the artery becomes rough, hard, and more narrow.

When one or more of the coronary arteries becomes narrow or blocked, the heart does not get the needed blood supply. This is called ischemic heart disease or coronary artery disease (CAD).

Symptoms may include chest pain (angina) or shortness of breath. Certain patients such as diabetics may have no symptoms when the arteries become blocked. The first symptom of CAD in this case may be a heart attack (myocardial infarction). Heart bypass surgery can increase lifespan in patients who have blockages in either all three coronary arteries or in the main left coronary artery.

Coronary artery bypass graft (CABG) surgery creates a detour or bypass around the blocked portion of the artery. This restores the blood supply to the heart muscle.

The reason to have surgery is to make your life better or longer. There are risks with every surgery and it varies with each person and the procedure performed. Your risk depends on your age and overall health. Your surgeon will answer your questions and discuss your surgery options, risks and your specific plan of care.

Patients requiring surgery to treat coronary artery disease benefit from a highly skilled and innovative team of cardiac surgeons, physician assistants, nurse practitioners, nurses and other health care professionals. At the Center for Coronary Disease, the goal is to provide patients with the longest lasting and least invasive operation possible.

The cardiac surgeons at the Center for Coronary Disease at the Bluhm Cardiovascular Institute use arteries as often as possible to create the bypass because research has shown that artery bypass grafts remain open longer than vein grafts. Retrieving blood vessels used to create the bypass is performed using an endoscope. This instrument allows the vessel to be removed with about a 1-inch incision. This minimally invasive approach results in less pain, faster healing and a reduced chance of infection. Another innovative surgical technique is the pain relief pump to minimize pain after surgery. The pump delivers non-narcotic numbing medication directly to the chest incision site through a thin plastic catheter. This not only results in less pain and less use of narcotics, but also allows for a quicker recovery.

New surgical techniques eliminating the use of a heart lung machine (called beating heart or off-pump surgery) are now performed routinely in select patients. Many other patient care innovations are being developed to ensure patients receive the best possible and most durable operation at the minimum risk.

Atherosclerosis cannot be cured. CABG surgery does not prevent recurrence. Lifestyle changes are needed to prevent recurrence of artery blockage, prevent new blockages from developing and to maximize your benefits after CABG surgery.


For more information regarding coronary artery bypass graft (CABG) surgery, please call the Bluhm Cardiovascular Institute at 1-866-662-8467 or request a first time appointment online.

Last UpdateNovember 28, 2012