How does coronary artery bypass surgery treat heart attacks?

Dr. Jeanne Morrison, PhD
Family Practitioner

Coronary artery bypass surgery opens a new path for blood to flow to the heart. This surgery is performed on a patient with a severely blocked or narrowed coronary artery. It is often performed after the patient has recovered from the heart attack. Under extreme circumstances, the surgery may be performed during a heart attack if the person cannot take blood thinning medications, or has recently experienced a stroke or surgery. During the surgical procedure, veins or arteries are sewn in place around the blocked or narrowed artery to return normal blood flow to the heart.

Picture of double coronary bypass

Coronary artery bypass surgery creates new pathways for the blood to get to the heart arteries by bypassing or going around blockages.  Arteries can be taken from underneath the patient’s breastbone or their arms to use for these bypasses.  Veins can also be used from the patient’s legs.  These arteries or veins are sewn to the heart arteries beyond the site of the blockage and can be attached to the main artery of the body, the aorta, to provide the inflow to these bypasses.  The blockages do not need to be removed.  Because the blood can flow more easily through the unblocked bypasses, the blood flow through the blocked heart arteries decreases further and the blood flow comes primarily through the bypasses.  This provides the heart muscle with increased blood flow and prevents further damage to the heart due to the blockages. 

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