The important role of your heart is to pump blood to every cell of your body and the blood vessels provide the pathway for the blood to travel. If one or more of your blood vessels become damaged or partially blocked, your doctor might suggest heart bypass surgery.
Here’s what you should know about heart bypass surgery procedure and recovery.
What Is Heart Bypass Surgery?
Heart bypass surgery is performed to improve the blood circulation of your heart. During the surgery, your doctor will take blood vessels from another part of the body to bypass the blocked or damaged arteries. This surgery reduces your risk of heart attack and other heart-related problems. It is usually done when coronary arteries become damaged or blocked.
There are different types of heart bypass surgery and your doctor might recommend the one based on the number of arteries blocked, including:
- Single Bypass Surgery – If one artery is blocked
- Double Bypass Surgery – If two arteries are blocked
- Triple Bypass Surgery – If three arteries are blocked
- Quadruple Bypass Surgery – If four arteries are blocked
Why Is Bypass Surgery Required?
You might need to undergo this surgery if you have coronary artery disease, otherwise atherosclerosis. This condition occurs if the plaque builds up on your arterial walls and blocks the blood circulation.
Your doctor might also recommend bypass surgery if:
- Multiple blocks are present
- There is a block in your left main coronary artery, which supplies blood to your left ventricle.
- You have had other procedures that have not worked or block your artery again.
- One of your coronary arteries has a disease that causes your left ventricle (a chamber that does most of your heart’s blood pumping) to not function well.
- You have severe chest pain as a result of reduced blood supply to your heart.
The Difference Between Bypass and Open Heart Surgery
Open-heart surgery is referred to as any type of heart surgery where the chest is cut open and also any of the heart chambers are opened and surgery is performed on the surface of the heart without opening any chambers, arteries, muscles, and valves of the heart. However, bypass surgery is only performed to correct the blocked or damaged blood vessels, for enhanced blood circulation.
Heart Bypass Surgery Procedure
The surgery is performed under general anaesthesia and the time length of the surgery maybe 3 to 6 hours depending on your condition and number of blocks. Before the surgery, you are put on a ventilator, which will breathe for you during and after the procedure. Here are the steps involved in the heart bypass surgery procedure:
Making an Incision
Your doctor will make an incision in the middle of your chest and then your rib cage is spread to expose your heart. Your doctor may also perform this surgery laparoscopically, which includes smaller incisions and robotic procedures.
Connecting to the Cardiopulmonary Bypass Machine
Most of the times, the bypass operation is done on beating heart which means the heart will be continuing to beat and supply blood as usual while the bypass grafts are being stitched, but sometimes, your doctor may temporarily stop your heart using medication and connect you to the cardiopulmonary bypass machine, which will circulate oxygen and blood through your body.
Your doctor will remove a healthy blood vessel (graft) from another part of your body, including your chest, arm, or leg. The removed blood vessel is attached to the blocked artery, which creates a route for the blood to travel to your heart. If you have three or four blockages, your doctor will perform multiple bypass procedures during the same surgery.
Closing the Incision
After your surgery is done, your doctor will check the function of your newly attached blood vessel. Once confirmed it is functioning well, the chest is closed, and incision stitched up and bandaged.
What Happens After Heart Bypass Surgery?
You will be taken to the intensive care unit (ICU) for monitoring your condition. You will be still breathing with the ventilator and may have after heart bypass surgery side effects, including:
- Pain with deep breaths
- Pain when coughing
- Pain at the incision site
These are normal and will go away within a few days. You will be in the ICU for one to two days and your vital signs, including your blood pressure and heart rate will be continuously monitored. Once your condition is stable, you will be shifted from ICU to a general room and from there, you will be discharged within 3 to 5 days. Before you leave, your medical team will give you instructions on how to take care of yourself and the dos and don’ts after surgery.
Heart Bypass Surgery Recovery
Heart bypass surgery recovery is a slow process and can take 2 to 3 months. It is quite normal to feel down and uncomfortable after surgery. Your doctor will schedule several follow-up appointments during the first few months to monitor your progress.
However, make sure to visit your doctor immediately if you feel worse, your symptoms do not go away, or you experience:
- Rapid heart rate
- Fever above 100 degrees Fahrenheit
- Discharge or redness around the incision
- Chest pain that increases from time to time
Follow these tips for speeding up your recovery process:
- Don’t drive for 4 to 6 weeks.
- Do not involve in intense workouts. Instead, perform cardiac rehabilitation if your doctor has recommended it. Cardiac rehabilitation is a customized exercise program that provides lifestyle education, including nutrition. After completing this program, you can work on your fitness.
- Perform simple household works when you recover.
- Most patients can resume their work after 6 weeks. However, if your work involves physical tasks, get your doctor’s advice before resuming to work. Generally, it can take 3 months to resume to work with full strength.
The bypass surgery recovery time depends on your overall health, types of activities you perform, and how many bypass surgeries you have had.