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Medical News Today: How long does it take to recover from heart bypass surgery?

Heart bypass surgery is the most common type of heart surgery performed on adults. Doctors recommend heart bypass surgery when one or more of the blood vessels that transport blood to the heart muscles become partially blocked.

Heart bypass surgery is a complicated procedure that involves a significant amount of preparation and recovery time. Occasionally, someone must undergo emergency heart bypass surgery, but most of the time the operation is planned.

Heart bypass surgery is a relatively safe and effective procedure that reduces the risk of heart attack and death. The procedure might also ease symptoms of coronary artery disease, such as chest pain.

What is the procedure?

surgeon making heart shape with hands
A heart bypass can lower the risk of a heart attack.

Doctors typically have a range of options at their disposal to fix the blockage. If left untreated, coronary artery disease can lead to heart attack and even death.

When possible, doctors may try to resolve the issue of blocked arteries with medication and less-invasive procedures, such as a stent.

If these options do not work or are not suitable for an individual, surgeons might decide to perform heart bypass surgery.

Heart bypass surgery is one of the most effective weapons against blocked arteries and the problems they cause.

The medical name for heart bypass surgery is coronary artery bypass graft (CABG).

According to the American Heart Association, CABG involves removing a blood vessel from the chest, arms, or legs and using it to create a detour or bypass around the blockage. This allows blood to reach the heart again.

Surgeons can address more than one artery in a single operation. A double bypass involves two repairs, a triple bypass involves three, and a quadruple bypass involves four. The quintuple bypass is the most intricate heart bypass surgery and includes all five of the major arteries feeding the heart.

Removing a blood vessel from another part of the body will not substantially affect blood flow in the area the vessel came from.

Types of heart bypass surgery

Heart bypass surgery is typically an open-heart surgery, which means that the surgeon cuts the chest open to reach the heart. The surgeon can then perform the surgery “on-pump” or “off-pump.”

On-pump surgery involves using a heart-lung machine that circulates blood and breathes for the body. The machine allows doctors to stop the heart, which makes the operation easier.

Off-pump surgery, also called “beating heart surgery,” takes place while the heart is still beating, but does not use the heart-lung machine.

Sometimes, a surgeon can perform heart bypass surgery without opening the chest.

Risks and potential complications vary for each person. A doctor can help decide which treatment is the best option for each person.

What should people expect before the surgery?

administering medication via iv tube
An IV enables medicines and fluids to be administered directly into the body.

Before heart bypass surgery, people should:

  • refrain from taking any drugs containing aspirin for 3 days before the surgery
  • stop smoking immediately, as smoking creates mucus in the lungs that can interfere with recovery
  • arrange for someone to stay with them after returning home
  • avoid eating or drinking after midnight on the night before surgery
  • follow any other instructions provided by the doctor or care team

Some people might want to donate their own blood beforehand for use during the surgery.

A person undergoing a planned heart bypass operation will have an opportunity to discuss the procedure with their doctor before the operation. The care team will explain the surgery, set up arrival times, and help complete paperwork.

Many people may undergo tests before the surgery including an electrocardiogram (EKG), chest X-ray, and blood tests.

Before the operation, nurses insert a needle (IV) into the person’s arm. The IV will allow fluids and medicines to enter the body as needed.

A member of the healthcare team might also shave the areas where a surgeon will make their incisions.

Immediately before the surgery, the doctors provide medicine that causes a deep sleep until after the operation.

Although times can vary, heart bypass surgery usually lasts between 3 and 6 hours.

Success rate

Heart bypass surgeries are serious but relatively safe.

Surgeons perform hundreds of thousands of heart bypass operations each year and many of those who have the surgery get relief from their symptoms without needing long-term medication.

The more severe the heart disease, the higher the risk of complications. However, the mortality rate is low, and according to one report, only 2–3 percent of people who undergo heart bypass surgery die as a result of the operation.

Recovery time

After waking up, a person will have a tube down their throat that helps them to breathe. It will feel strange and uncomfortable, but it is necessary. Usually, a doctor will remove the tube after 24 hours.

On average, a person will remain in the hospital for about a week after surgery. It is normal to experience soreness and night sweats, and there is likely to be some fluid in the lungs, so people should expect a good bit of coughing.

People usually start to eat and move around soon after the doctor has removed the breathing tube.

Common post-surgery medications typically include drugs called platelet inhibitors, which help prevent blood clots.

How will life change after the surgery?

nurse talking to patient after surgery
Generally, a person will stay in the hospital for about a week after surgery.

Complications are possible but unusual. Assuming there are no complications, most people can expect a better quality of life quite soon after surgery.

Improvements include reduced chest pain, as well as other symptoms related to blocked coronary arteries.

More importantly, successful heart bypass surgery typically means that a person is at a much lower risk of heart attack and death.

After having heart bypass surgery, a person will most likely need to take aspirin every day for the rest of their life.

Takeaway

Heart disease continues to be a top health problem in the United States. There are many options for treating heart disease. For hundreds of thousands of people each year, heart bypass surgery is the best choice to address blocked arteries.

Heart bypass surgery is safe and effective and can help people regain the quality of life they experienced before they developed the heart condition.

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