Bypass Surgery: Purpose & Procedure

Just the mention of a “bypass surgery” is enough to generate gasps of shock and surprise. With the advancement in the field of medical science and the sophisticated surgical instruments being used nowadays, bypass surgery has a success rate of 99.5%. Which implies that though it involves operating the most vital organ of the body, a bypass surgery isn’t as intimidating as it once used to be.
About 47 million Indians suffered from Coronary Artery Disease in 2010 and this number is rapidly increasing with each passing year. Over 60,000 patients undergo a bypass surgery every year and even this number is alarmingly on a rise.


Why is it needed?
The blood vessels that carry blood to the heart are called the coronary artery. Over time, plaque builds up on the inner walls of the arteries reducing the blood flow to the heart. This decreased blood supply, causes stress on the heart muscles and tires them out. When the condition worsens, the coronary artery is blocked altogether.   This condition, known as atherosclerosis or coronary artery disease puts the person at a high risk of a heart attack due lack of blood supply. A bypass surgery is needed when the blockage is too severe to be managed with medication.

What is done in the surgery?
Prior to the surgery, an I.V. is given to the patient. Through the I.V., medication, fluids and anaesthesia are given to the patient. The anaesthesia put the person to a deep painless sleep.

A typical bypass surgery lasts for three to six hours. An incision is made below the sternum and the rib cage is spread apart to expose the heart. Until recently, the patient was then hooked to a lung machine that supplied the body with oxygenated blood while the heart was operated on. Off late though, only a part of the heart is stabilized or ‘put on hold’ with advanced operating equipment. Which means that only a part of the heart is non-functional while the rest continues beating and supplying blood to the body during the surgery.

A graft (tissues from either the thoracic arteries or from the legs) is then used to redirect the blood vessel around the blockages so as to ‘bypass’ the blockage and ensure a continuous supply of blood to the heart.

With the advancement in technology, doctors are now also able to carry out the surgery by making just a 3 inch incision in the chest. This, though isn’t possible for all bypass surgeries.

Typically a person who has undergone a bypass surgery needs to stay at the hospital for at least 5-6 days.