Heart Bypass Surgery Explained

Heart Bypass Surgery Explained

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Bypass heart surgery is an open-heart surgery that is done when the blood vessels that feed the heart are too clogged to function properly. This type of heart surgery is generally performed as an open heart procedure, meaning the surgeon opens the chest in order to see the heart and perform surgery.

The surgery can be performed as a minimally invasive procedure where the chest is not opened. That procedure is less common than the more standard open-heart surgery, as far fewer patients are physically suitable for that technique.

Anatomy of the Human Heart

To understand a bypass procedure, it is necessary to understand a few things about the anatomy of the heart and heart disease. The blood vessels that supply the heart with its own blood supply are called the coronary arteries. In some people, the coronary arteries become blocked, a situation known as coronary artery disease.

If a blockage is severe, it can totally stop blood flow to the area of the heart that is fed by that particular blood vessel. Stopping the blood flow to the heart is extremely serious—even in the smallest of blood vessels—because it can reason chest pain, a heart attack, or even death.

Double, Triple, Quadruple, or Quintuple Bypass

The number of vessels that are diseased typically dictates the number of grafts—vessels that need bypasses—that will be performed. If three vessels are blocked and need to be bypassed, the surgery is referred to as a triple bypass because three grafts are performed. If two vessels are bypassed the surgery is called a double bypass, and so on. Quintuple bypass procedures, where five vessels are bypassed, are fairly rare, but the four-vessel quadruple bypass is fairly general.

After Heart Bypass Surgery

Unlike most surgeries, the patient is allowed to wake slowly and naturally from anesthesia, rather than a medication being given to wake the patient up. For this cause, it is often four to six hours after surgery before the patient begins to be awake and alert, and the breathing tube remains in place until that time. The first day after surgery is typically spent in a cardiac care unit or ICU, where the nurses can keep a watchful eye over the patient as they begin their recovery.

Recovery after Heart Bypass Surgery

The recovery from this type of process will take several days in the hospital and several months after returning home. For some, recovery will contain cardiac rehabilitation—physical exercise performed under the watchful eye of a therapist—to help strengthen the heart. For most, recovery will take six to 12 weeks, and will end with a return to the activities that were enjoyed prior to surgery. For some, they will be capable to do more activities, as their exercise will not be limited by chest pain.

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