Are You a Good Candidate for Heart Bypass Surgery?


Catherine Spader, RN

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Is Your Heart in Shape?

In people with coronary artery disease (CAD), fatty plaque builds up in the coronary arteries over a period of many years, hardens, and eventually blocks the flow of blood to the heart muscle. Untreated CAD increases your risk of having a heart attack. Heart bypass surgery treats narrowed or blocked coronary arteries. 

The goals of heart bypass surgery are to improve blood flow to the heart muscle and improve or relieve chest pain and other symptoms. It can also lower your risk of heart attack and help you live longer.

Are There Other Treatment Options?

Doctors often recommend less invasive treatments to manage CAD. Less invasive treatments include lifestyle changes and medications. Lifestyle changes consist of regular exercise, eating a heart-healthy diet, managing stress, and quitting smoking if you smoke. 

Your doctor will also treat high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes. These diseases make heart disease worse and further increase the risk of heart attack. Less invasive surgeries that treat CAD include angioplasty and stenting, although these procedures are not an option for everyone. 

Ask your doctor about all of your treatment options and consider getting a second opinion before deciding on heart bypass surgery.

When to Consider Heart Bypass Surgery

You may want to consider heart bypass surgery if less invasive treatments have not prevented or reduced chest pain caused by coronary artery disease. Your doctor may consider you a good candidate for heart bypass surgery if you have artery blockages that can't be treated with angioplasty.

Your doctor will base the decision to perform a heart bypass on:

  • How severe your symptoms are
  • The location of your coronary artery blockage(s) 
  • How many of blockages you have
  • The severity of your blockage(s)
  • The success of angioplasty in reopening your narrowed coronary vessels

If you decide on surgery, ask if you are a good candidate for minimally invasive surgery. It can involve a faster recovery and less pain than open heart bypass surgery.

Who Is NOT a Good Candidate for Heart Bypass Surgery?

You may not be a good candidate if you have a:

  • Pre-existing condition including an aneurysm, heart valve disease, or blood disease
  • Serious physical disability including an inability to care for yourself
  • Severe disease of another organ, such as the lungs or kidneys
  • Terminal illness including advanced cancer, AIDS, liver failure, or severe dementia

What to Expect

A cardiac surgeon performs heart bypass surgery by making a 6- to10-inch incision in the chest through the breastbone. Minimally invasive surgery involves making smaller incisions between the ribs and does not involving cutting through the breastbone. 

You will have general anesthesia for your surgery. You will stay in the hospital 5 to 7 days, depending on the type of bypass surgery and how well you are recovering.

You will have restrictions on physical tasks as you recover. This means you may need help with household, work, and other daily activities. 

Cardiac rehabilitation is an essential part of recovery. Gradually, you’ll return to your normal activities. Full recovery times range from a few weeks to a few months.

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Medical Reviewers: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS Last Review Date: Jul 24, 2016

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View Sources

Medical References

  1. CABG (Coronary Artery Bypass Graft) OR (AortoCoronary Bypass). slideshare: Khaled Mahajna.
  2. CABG Information. The Society of thoracic Surgeons.
  3. Coronary Artery Bypass Graft Surgery (CABG). Johns Hopkins Medicine.
  4. Coronary Artery Bypass Graft Surgery and Percutaneous Transluminal Coronary Angioplasty.
  5. Coronary Artery Bypass Grafting. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.
  6. How Is Coronary Heart Disease Treated? National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.

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