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Health Digest

What To Expect After A Coronary Artery Bypass, According To A Heart Specialist

By Erin Marie,


Although a coronary artery bypass can sound scary enough by name, experts say that it has many benefits to offer patients who may be facing certain health conditions. Health Digest spoke with Dr. Isaac George, Co-Director of the Structural Heart and Valve Center at NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia University Irving Medical Center and Associate Professor of Surgery and Medicine, Columbia University Irving Medical Center. In his interview, Dr. George was able to break down exactly what's involved in the surgery itself and what patients can expect after the fact.

"Coronary artery bypass surgery (CABG) is one of the most studied and effective operations," Dr. George states. "It involves using special conduits, otherwise known as vessels, to "bypass" areas of blockages in the arteries that supply blood to the heart, the coronary arteries," he says. "These conduits provide a pathway for blood to go around a blocked artery and reach heart muscle." Dr. George explains that blockages can progressively develop due to lifestyle factors, as well as certain medical conditions. "As a result of blocked arteries, patients may experience a heart attack, heart failure or even death," he states.

Risk Of Complications

Dr. George goes on to explain to Health Digest who can benefit most from coronary artery bypass surgery. "Patients that tend to derive the most benefit from CABG surgery includes those with poor heart function, diabetes mellitus, or multiple blockages," he says. "CABG surgery is the most effective way to restore quality of life by relieving chest pain, and has also been shown to extend life, compared to medication or stents in patients with symptoms and severe blockages."

However, Dr. George states that the procedure does not come without potential risks. "The risks of open heart surgery depend on individual patient risk factors, such as age, heart function, diabetes, lung function and other medical conditions," he explains. "Complications can occur after CABG surgery, such as bleeding (1-5%), stroke (1-2%), infection of your sternum (1%) or death (1-2% or less)."

While the full recovery period following coronary artery bypass surgery extends for months, Dr. George goes on to explain what patients can expect in the immediate aftermath of the surgery, as well as in the weeks to come.

Recovery Post Coronary Artery Bypass Surgery

"Most patients tend to stay in the ICU one day, with a breathing tube present for 4-12 hours after surgery," Dr. George explains. "After the breathing tube is removed, patients are moved to a step down unit, where they walk and continue to recover. All tubes from the chest area are removed, and patients typically go home by day 5-7," he says. By this time, patients are often slowly starting to resume day-to-day activities. "At the time of discharge, patients can walk, dress themselves and shower[.] [T]hey may also begin exercise outside, such [as] walking, soon after discharge." However, Dr. George notes that more intensive physical activity, particularly exercise with heavy chest involvement, will need to be avoided for two to three months after surgery. Such activities include golf and swimming. However, patients are able to drive a motor vehicle after four to six weeks.

Concluding the interview, Dr. George describes what signs patients should watch for indicating they may require medical attention. "Patients who have blockages in their coronary arteries must always be on the lookout for symptoms of a heart attack ," he advises. "Symptoms may vary, but commonly include chest pain, chest pressure, fatigue, shortness of breath, malaise, or generalized feelings of discomfort," he explains. In this event, patients should not hesitate to reach out to their physician. "Any of these symptoms should prompt a call to the doctor for further evaluation," Dr. George states.

Read this next: The Questions Your Doctor Wishes You'd Ask

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