How can heart bypass surgery affect my thinking?

The cognitive dysfunction observed in patients who undergo coronary artery bypass grafting (CABG) surgery usually disappears within eight weeks following surgery, according to a study published in The Annals of Thoracic Surgery.

Previously published estimates of the incidence of post-operative cognitive dysfunction vary widely, with some studies reporting lasting impairment in as many as 50% of patients.

Researchers from Monash University and RMIT University, both in Victoria, Australia, periodically tested cognitive function in three sets of patients: 16 patients who underwent elective CABG surgery, 15 patients who underwent elective chest surgery for lung biopsies or lobectomies, and 15 nonsurgical patients.

The researchers found that CABG patients performed worse on every subtest prior to surgery, and these disparities continued following surgery. Anxiety, depression, and stress were associated with impaired cognitive performance in patients in the two surgical groups one week after surgery.

At one week post-operation, 44% of CABG patients and 33% of surgical control patients were significantly impaired; however, by eight weeks post-operation, nearly all patients had recovered to pre-operation levels, with 25% of CABG patients and 13% of surgical control patients improving beyond their pre-operative performance.

The researchers also found that even though the surgical groups showed impairment, when individual performance within these groups was examined, more than half of the patients were unaffected by the surgery.

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