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What is coronary (heart) bypass surgery?

Coronary artery bypass surgery is the most commonly performed heart surgery in the United States.  It is a serious heart surgery that is performed when you have at least one major heart blood vessel that has a significant blockage.  The blockage, or plaque, is composed of cholesterol and blood clotting cells, and reduces the blood flow to your heart muscle.  This can cause damage to your heart if not corrected.  The blood flow is restored by taking an artery or vein from a different part of your body and using it to reroute the blood flow to your heart.  Usually, the artery is taken from the underside of the chest or from the arm, and the vein is taken from the leg.  These blood vessels, or grafts, are first checked to ensure that they are patent and do not have blockage. 

Coronary artery bypass surgery (abbreviated as CABG, and pronounced “cabbage”) is an open heart surgery in which you are placed under general anesthesia with a breathing tube inserted into your lungs, and attached to a ventilator.  You are sedated and will not feel any pain during the procedure.  The surgeon makes an incision down the front of your chest, and the chest cavity is opened to expose the heart.  You are placed on a machine that pumps your blood for you (heart-lung machine, or cardiopulmonary bypass), which allows your heart to be stopped so the surgeon can suture the new blood vessels above and below the blockages to allow blood flow to be re-routed.  This ensures that the heart muscle has adequate and maximum blood flow.   Once the procedure is completed, the heart is restarted, and you are taken off the breathing machine and the bypass machine. More information is available at

A less commonly used type of coronary bypass surgery is the off-pump CABG, in which the heart-lung machine is not used and the surgery is performed while the heart is still beating.  Some studies have shown that this type of surgery results in lower risk of stroke.

Is heart bypass surgery serious?

Is coronary bypass surgery the same as open heart surgery?

How long does coronary bypass surgery take?

Do the doctors break your ribs during bypass surgery?

How long do you stay in the hospital after coronary artery bypass surgery?

How painful is bypass surgery recovery?

What is the survival rate after bypass surgery?

Are there alternative treatments to coronary artery bypass?

* Savings estimate based on a study of more than 1 billion claims comparing self-pay (or cash pay) prices of a frequency-weighted market basket of procedures to insurer-negotiated rates for the same. Claims were collected between July 2017 and July 2019. R.Lawrence Van Horn, Arthur Laffer, Robert L.Metcalf. 2019. The Transformative Potential for Price Transparency in Healthcare: Benefits for Consumers and Providers. Health Management Policy and Innovation, Volume 4, Issue 3.

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