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Heart Bypass Surgery

What is a heart bypass surgery?

Heart bypass surgery, also called coronary bypass surgery or coronary artery bypass graft (CABG), is a procedure that is done to divert the blood flow in the heart around a narrowed or blocked artery.

Common reasons heart bypass surgery is performed

Heart bypass surgery is often performed to restore blood flow to the heart to improve the heart’s function and its ability to pump blood. When someone has one or more severely blocked arteries or areas of blockage in an artery, heart bypass surgery is a common treatment option. Sometimes people refer to the surgery by the number of blockages that need to be treated – like a quadruple bypass (when four areas need to be treated).

The goal of heart bypass surgery is to improve the heart’s function and reduce the likelihood of a heart attack or dying from heart disease.

Heart bypass surgery is the surgery of choice in a few circumstances:

  • Severe chest pain is being caused by narrowing or blockage in several coronary arteries
  • More than one coronary artery is diseased, so the heart isn’t able to function properly
  • The left main coronary artery is severely narrowed or blocked
  • Angioplasty isn’t appropriate to treat blockages
  • You’re experiencing re-stenosis or in-stent restenosis
  • You need emergency treatment for a heart attack and other treatments aren’t working

How is heart bypass surgery performed?

The way heart bypass surgery is performed depends upon the process your surgeon chooses to use. Most heart bypass surgery is open heart surgery. During open-heart surgery, the surgeon makes an incision in the center of the chest and attaches a heart-lung machine to divert blood away from your heart, but help keep it flowing to the rest of your body. After that, the ribcage is spread so the surgeon can access your heart. Once your chest is fully open, your surgeon stops your heart temporarily and the heart-lung machine takes over pumping the blood. This is called on-pump coronary bypass surgery. Once the heart-lung machine is going, the surgeon removes a section of a healthy blood vessels from somewhere else in the body (often the chest wall or the lower leg) and attaches one end above the artery blockage and the other end above the blockage. This allows the blood to flow around the blockage so it can still nourish your heart muscle.

Off-pump heart bypass surgery, otherwise known as beating-heart surgery, allows the surgeon to perform the bypass on a beating heart without attaching the heart-lung machine. Because the heart continues to move (beat) during the procedure, it is more difficult than on-pump heart bypass surgery.

Some surgeons also perform minimally invasive heart bypass surgery. The surgeon makes a small incision in the chest and may use a robot and video images to operate on the heart. There are a few variations of this type of surgery.

On-pump open-heart bypass surgery is the most common type of heart bypass surgery; however, as technologies improve and more surgeons are trained in minimally invasive and robotic techniques, those types of surgery are on the rise.

Minimally invasive vs. open heart

There are risks and benefits to both minimally invasive and open-heart bypass surgery. Typically, the less invasive a surgery is, the faster the recovery period will be and the less pain, scarring and bleeding are experienced.

Learn more about Beaumont's Advancements in Heart Surgery and Recovery

Recovery expectations

Most people make a complete recovery after heart bypass surgery. It is a long recovery process, but with proper care, it can be successful. You will likely stay in the hospital for about a week – several days in the ICU and then a few more days in another part of the hospital. Once you return home, you will have strict limitations for a couple weeks, but the limitations will be reduced over time. Within six to eight weeks, you should be able to do most of the things you were doing before you had surgery.

Learn more about what to expect for recovery after heart bypass surgery

Survival rates

Survival rates vary from hospital to hospital. They also vary based on the age and other factors. For example, the mortality rate after bypass surgery according to the national Medicare Experience shows that the 30-day survival rate was more than 95 percent for people ages 65 to 69 and about 89.4 percent for people 80 years and older. In another study of almost 10,000 heart surgery recipients, more than 90 percent of patients were still alive after five years.

There are many organizations that track survival rate for different heart procedures. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services track outcomes for all hospitals that receive Medicare or Medicaid reimbursement for a few procedures, including heart bypass surgery.

Before you decide where to have your surgery, you can research the outcomes of your hospital, and you may be able to get data specific to your surgeon as well.


Most people’s risk of complications during or after a planned heart bypass surgery is low. Your surgeon will take steps to reduce the risk of complications, but there are some possible complications during and after the procedure. Some of the more common complications are:

  • Bleeding
  • Arrhythmias
  • Infection
  • Stroke or heart attack
  • Kidney dysfunction
  • Memory loss or difficulty thinking clearly

If you have emergency heart bypass surgery or you have additional health conditions, your risk of complications may be higher than normal. Talk to your surgeon about what your specific risks are. If the risks outweigh the potential benefits, you and your doctor may decide surgery isn’t the best option right now.

Types of doctors that perform heart bypass surgery

The doctors who perform heart bypass surgery include heart surgeons, interventional cardiologists, cardiothoracic surgeons, and cardiovascular surgeons.

The Beaumont difference

Beaumont is a world leader in heart innovation. Corewell Health William Beaumont University Hospital has been ranked as one of the top cardiac and heart surgery programs in the nation for 22 consecutive years. Our heart and vascular teams provide the most advanced treatment options, including minimally invasive heart surgery. We have specialized heart care centers throughout Metro Detroit that offer technologies to care for even the sickest patients.

Our heart surgeons will work with you and your family to ensure you get the care you need from a multidisciplinary team of experts.

Start your search at Beaumont. Find a Beaumont heart surgeon, interventional cardiologist, cardiothoracic surgeon, or cardiovascular surgeon near you.