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Coronary Bypass Recovery: What to Expect

By , Caring.com senior editor
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Practical tips after coronary bypass surgery

If someone's doctor informs him that his coronary arteries (the arteries that provide blood flow to the heart) are severely blocked, he may need to undergo coronary bypass surgery. Also known as coronary artery bypass grafting, this surgical procedure diverts blood flow around a section of blocked or diseased artery. According to the American Heart Association, more than half a million of these operations are performed every year.

Bypass surgery is a major operation: The surgeon usually makes an incision along the breastbone (sternum), spreads the rib cage, stops the heart, and uses a heart-lung machine to circulate the blood during the operation. In some cases, the surgeon may remove a section of a long vein from the leg and use it as a bypass graft.

In this procedure, one end of the leg vein is grafted to the aorta (the large artery leaving the heart), and the other end is grafted to the coronary artery past the blockage. Alternatively, the surgeon may detach one or both of the internal mammary arteries (arteries that branch from the aorta) from the chest wall and attach the open end directly to the coronary artery downstream of the blockage.

Recovery from coronary bypass surgery depends on a number of things, including what type of bypass was done, the patient's physical condition before the operation, and whether he complies with his doctor's recommendations following surgery. A general timetable may help you plan for the future, but remember that there's no set schedule for recovery. Whether the patient experiences some or all of the following issues, here are some practical tips to help you both.