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A coronary artery bypass graft (CABG) is an open-heart surgery to restore blood flow to the heart muscle. A part of a blood vessel from another part of the body is attached to a blocked artery of the heart. The attached blood vessel creates a new path for blood to flow around the blockage.

Coronary Artery Bypass Surgery

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Atherosclerosis is a common disease of the arteries. Over time cholesterol and fats collect on the walls of blood vessels and form a plaque. As the plaque grows, it decrease the amount of space that blood has to pass through and slows blood flow to the heart muscle. This low blood flow can lead to chest pain called, angina. Eventually, plaque can cause the blood vessel to tear and form a blood clot which can completely block blood flow and lead to a heart attack or death.

CABG is done if there are severe blockages in arteries of the heart that are causing problems with the function of the heart. CABG may be an option if other treatment are ineffective or not a good option. It may be done:

  • After or during a heart attack
  • To treat angina that is not responding to other treatment


Problems from the procedure are rare, but all procedures have some risk. Your doctor will review potential problems, like:

  • Post-surgical infection
  • Blood clots
  • High blood pressure or low blood pressure
  • Bleeding
  • Stroke
  • Damage to other organs such as the kidneys
  • Irregular heart rate
  • Death

Some factors that may increase the risk of complications include:


Prior to procedure

To prepare for surgery, your doctor may need some of the following:

Talk to your doctor about your medication. You may need to stop taking certain medication for one week before surgery.

Your doctor may also ask you to:

  • Eat a light meal the night before. Do not eat or drink anything after midnight.
  • Arrange for a ride to and from the hospital.
  • Arrange for help at home after the procedure.


General anesthesia will be given. You will be asleep during the procedure.

Description of procedure

An incision will be made through the skin. The breastbone will be split to open the chest. For traditional CABG, a heart-lung machine will be connected to major blood vessels of the heart. The machine will act as the heart and lungs during the surgery so that blood and oxygen will continue to flow through the body while the heart is repaired.

An artery will be taken from the chest wall or a section of a vein will be removed from the leg. The new vessel section will be connected by the blocked arteries. One end of the new vessel will be attached just above the blockage. The other end will be attached just below the blockage. When the new vessel is in place, the heart will be allowed to wake up. Electrical shocks may be needed in some cases to make sure the heart is beating with the right rhythm. Once the doctor is sure that blood is flowing well, the heart-lung machine will be disconnected. Temporary tubes may be placed in your chest to help drain any fluid. The breastbone will be wired together. The chest will be closed with stitches or staples.

There is a less invasive approach, called minimally invasive coronary artery surgery. The purpose of this surgery is the same, but the technique and condition of the patient are different. Patients who have only one or two clogged arteries may be candidates for this approach. In this technique, a small incision is made in the chest. The doctor usually uses an artery from inside the chest for the bypass. The key difference in this technique is that the doctor performs the surgery while the heart is beating. With this technique, the heart-lung machine is not needed. If you need CABG, your doctor will carefully evaluate you to determine the best technique for you.

Immediately after procedure

Recovery will happen in the intensive care unit, to provide monitoring and support if needed. Care may include:

  • Heart monitor
  • Pacing wires to control heart rate
  • Tubes connected to a machine to drain fluids from the wound
  • Breathing tube or an oxygen mask
  • Catheter inserted to drain the bladder

How long will it take?

4-5 hours

How much will it hurt?

Anesthesia prevents pain during surgery. There will be pain for a few weeks after the surgery because of the chest opening. You will be given medication and support tips to help manage pain during recovery.

Average hospital stay

5-7 days

Post-procedure care

At the hospital

Dressings will be removed in 1-2 days. Pacing wires and chest tubes will be removed after a few days. Your medical team will encourage movement and other steps to help prevent complications after surgery. Step may include:

  • Frequent deep breathing and coughing exercise to prevent fluid build up in the lungs.
  • Walking as soon as possible after surgery to prevent blood clots in legs.

During your stay, the hospital staff will take steps to reduce your chance of infection such as:

  • Washing their hands
  • Wearing gloves or masks
  • Keeping your incisions covered

There are also steps you can take to reduce your chances of infection during recovery such as:

  • Washing your hands often and reminding visitors and healthcare providers to do the same
  • Reminding your healthcare providers to wear gloves or masks
  • Not allowing others to touch your incisions

At home

You will have reduced activities during your recovery. A cardiac rehabilitation program will be arranged. You may need to work with a dietitian for a special diet. Recovery may include:

  • Medications to control pain and heart disease
  • Wound care to prevent infection
  • Checking your weight every morning

Bypass surgery does not cure heart disease. The grafted blood vessels or other heart vessels can become clogged later on. You will be encouraged to make healthy lifestyle changes to prevent future complications.


It is important for you to monitor your recovery after you leave the hospital. Alert your doctor to any problems right away. If any of the following occur, call your doctor:

  • Pain that you cannot control with the medication you were given
  • Signs of infection, including fever and chills
  • Redness, swelling, increasing pain, excessive bleeding, or discharge at the incision sites
  • Persistent nausea or vomiting
  • Cough, shortness of breath, or chest pain
  • Pain, burning, urgency, frequency of urination, or persistent blood in the urine
  • Gaining more than 4 pounds within 1-2 days
  • Pain or swelling in your feet, calves, or legs, or sudden shortness of breath or chest pain

If you think you have an emergency, call for emergency medical services right away.