Key Points about Coronary Artery Bypass Surgery (CABG)

  • During CABG, your surgeon moves a healthy artery from another area of your body to your heart to redirect blood flow around a damaged area of the coronary artery.
  • Most people spend a couple of days in the intensive care unit following CABG.
  • After CABG, participation in a cardiac rehab program is important to recovery. 


If you have an artery that is partially or totally blocked, coronary artery bypass surgery – also called CABG – can help restore blood flow. During this procedure, your surgeon removes your damaged artery and moves a healthy artery from another area of your body into its place.

Candidates for CABG

You may be a candidate for CABG if you previously had surgical treatment for a blocked artery that did not sufficiently restore blood flow to the artery. You may also be a candidate for this procedure if you have a blocked artery with restricted blood flow that is causing chest pain.

Risks associated with CABG

Potential risks of this procedure include:

  • Bleeding
  • Heart attack
  • Infections of the surgical wound
  • Irregular heart rate
  • Kidney problems
  • Memory loss or trouble thinking clearly (usually improves after about eight hours)
  • Stroke

Preparing for CABG

You may need to stop taking certain prescription medications for a period of time before CABG; your doctor will provide you details about your medications. You will also need to fast (avoid eating or drinking) for up to 12 hours before the procedure.

Expectations during CABG

CABG is performed in a hospital operating room. If you weren’t already at the hospital due to an emergency situation, you will likely be admitted to the hospital on the morning of your CABG. You will be under general anesthesia for the procedure, meaning that you will be fully asleep.

CABG is typically performed as open-heart surgery. This means that your surgeon will make one large incision (cut) in your chest to access the damaged coronary artery. While the surgeon is performing the surgery, your heart will be temporarily stopped with medication and you will be hooked up to a heart-lung bypass machine to keep blood circulating in your body.

Your surgeon removes a section of a healthy artery – often from the lower leg or chest wall – and attaches one end above your damaged coronary artery and the other end below the coronary artery. Doing so redirects and restores blood flow around the blocked area of your coronary artery.

Once the surgery is complete, your surgeon closes the chest incision with stitches and surgical glue or bandages. You will likely spend one or two days in the intensive care unit (ICU) following the CABG. After you leave the ICU, you will spend several more days in a typical hospital room. While you are in the hospital, you may begin cardiac rehabilitation. Your doctor will recommend a cardiac rehabilitation plan for you to follow once you return home.

Conditions that may need CABG

You may need to undergo CABG if you:

  • Had a previous angioplasty or stent (hollow tube) placed that wasn’t enough to restore blood flow through a blocked artery
  • Have an artery blockage that cannot be treated with angioplasty, a procedure that uses a tiny balloon to open up a blocked artery
  • Have more than one coronary artery that is damaged
  • Have severe chest pain caused by narrowed arteries

When to seek care

If you think you may need CABG, start by voicing your concerns and symptoms to your primary care provider. From there, your doctor may suggest seeing a cardiologist for more specialized treatment.

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