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Coronary artery bypass graft surgery

A coronary artery bypass graft, sometimes called CABG, is an operation carried out to treat narrowed or clogged arteries caused by coronary heart disease.

The coronary artery bypass graft procedure gives the blood a new pathway to the heart.

These procedures are relatively common, with around 20,000 coronary artery bypass graft operations carried out in England each year.

What happens during coronary artery bypass graft surgery?

During coronary artery bypass graft surgery a blood vessel is removed or redirected from one area of the body and placed around the area or areas of narrowing to bypass the blockages and restore blood flow to the heart muscle. This vessel is called a graft.

These substitute blood vessels can come from your chest, legs or arms. They're safe to use because there are other pathways that take blood to and from those tissues.

Heart Failure - CABG

Which arteries are used for coronary grafts?

There are several types of heart bypass grafts. The surgeon decides which to use, based on the location of the blockage, the amount of blockage and the size of the patient's coronary arteries.

  • Internal mammary arteries (also called thoracic arteries): These are the most common bypass grafts, as they have been shown to have the best long-term results. In most cases, these arteries can be kept intact at their origin since they have their own oxygen-rich blood supply. During the procedure, the arteries are sewn to the coronary artery below the site of blockage. This artery is located in the chest and can be accessed through the primary incision for the heart bypass surgery.
  • Saphenous veins: These veins are removed from your leg and then sewn from your aorta to the coronary artery below the site of blockage. Minimally invasive techniques may be performed resulting in less scarring and a faster recovery.
  • Radial artery: There are two arteries in the lower part of the arm, the ulnar and radial arteries. Most people receive adequate blood flow to their arm from the ulnar artery alone and will not have any side effects if the radial artery is removed and used as a graft. Careful preoperative and intraoperative tests determine if the radial artery can be used. If you have certain conditions (such as Raynaud's syndrome, carpal tunnel syndrome or painful fingers in cold air) you may not be a candidate for this type of bypass graft. The radial artery incision is in your forearm, about two inches from your elbow and about one inch from your wrist. If you have this type of bypass, you will probably be prescribed a calcium-channel blocker for about six months after surgery to help keep the radial artery open. Some people report numbness in the wrist after surgery, however, long-term sensory loss or numbness is uncommon.
  • The gastroepiploic artery to the stomach and the inferior epigastric artery to the abdominal wall are less commonly used for grafting.

It is common for three or four coronary arteries to be bypassed during surgery. A coronary artery bypass can be performed with traditional surgery (see below) or with minimally invasive surgery (see below). Your surgeon will review your diagnostic tests prior to surgery to see if you are a candidate for minimally invasive bypass surgery.

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