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Coronary artery bypass graft

4-minute read

This page will give you information about a coronary artery bypass graft. If you have any questions, you should ask your GP or other relevant health professional.

What is coronary artery disease?

Coronary artery disease is a narrowing or blockage of the coronary arteries.

The narrowing of the coronary arteries is caused by atherosclerosis, where abnormal fatty material coats the inside of the artery.

The diseased arteries may not deliver enough oxygen to your heart. The pain associated with this is called angina.

A coronary artery can become blocked, causing part of the heart muscle to die.

What are the benefits of surgery?

You should get less pain. Surgery may also improve your breathing and how well your heart works.

Sometimes surgery can reduce the risk of you having a heart attack.

Are there any alternatives to surgery?

For some people it may be possible to have a percutaneous coronary intervention (PCI) to widen or unblock an artery using a small inflatable balloon.

A stent (metal mesh tube) is usually used to hold the artery open.

Medication can be used to relieve the symptoms of coronary artery disease and to help prevent the disease from getting worse.

What does the operation involve?

The operation is performed under a general anaesthetic and usually takes about 3 hours.

Your surgeon will make a cut down the front of your chest, through your breastbone (sternum). You will be connected to a heart-lung machine, which allows your heart to be still while the bypasses are performed.

For each coronary artery that needs a bypass, your surgeon will take a length of blood vessel from another area of your body, usually a vein from your leg or an artery from your arm or chest. They will use the blood vessel to bypass the narrowing or blockage and so restore a good blood supply to your heart.

Illustration showing grafts bypassing narrowings in the coronary arteries.
Grafts bypassing narrowings in the coronary arteries.

What complications can happen?

General complications of any operation

  • pain
  • bleeding
  • unsightly scarring of your skin
  • allergic reaction to the equipment, materials or medication
  • blood clot in your leg
  • blood clot in your lung

Specific complications of this operation

  • stroke
  • infection of the surgical site (wound)
  • heart attack
  • death

How soon will I recover?

After the operation you will be transferred to the cardiac intensive care unit or high dependency unit for a few days, so the healthcare team can monitor you more closely. You will then go to the ward.

You should be able to go home after 5 to 7 days.

The healthcare team will tell you when you can return to normal activities.

Regular exercise should help you to return to normal activities as soon as possible. Before you start exercising, ask the healthcare team or your GP for advice.

Most people make a good recovery, with relief from angina.

Most people have continued relief but symptoms can sometimes come back.


Coronary artery disease can cause pain, shortness of breath and heart attacks. A coronary artery bypass graft can relieve your pain and may help you to live longer.


The operation and treatment information on this page is published under license by Healthdirect Australia from EIDO Healthcare Australia and is protected by copyright laws. Other than for your personal, non-commercial use, you may not copy, print out, download or otherwise reproduce any of the information. The information should not replace advice that your relevant health professional would give you. Medical Illustration Copyright ©

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Last reviewed: September 2021

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