9 Complications With Coronary Artery Bypass Surgery

Coronary artery bypass surgery is a procedure used to restore blood and oxygen flow to the heart muscle after being restricted due to coronary artery disease. The operation is designed to bypass the area of the blood vessel in which a clot exists by taking a healthy vein from another area in the body and creating a new path for blood and oxygen to reach the heart. Most patients remain symptom-free for several years, but in rare cases, life-threatening complications exist.

9. Bleeding

Coronary artery plaque

One possible complication of coronary artery bypass surgery is bleeding at either the spot where the healthy vein was extracted from or bleeding where the artery was reattached. According to a 2009 study, reoperation for bleeding remains a significant complication of coronary artery bypass surgery. It was noted to occur in 2.4 percent of people post-surgery. However, the study noted there had been a decrease in the number of deaths for patients with this condition.

8. Arrhythmia


Arrhythmia, or irregular heartbeat, is otherwise known as atrial fibrillation. It is the most common heart rhythm disorder. According to a 2014 study, it is a known complication following cardiac surgery that represents a primary cause of death. It may also cause an increased stay in the hospital after surgery and increased economic costs. The study noted that some arrhythmia might be managed by the use of pacing wires during surgery, but some cases may be irreversible.

7. Blood Clots

Clots of blood - 3D illustration

Coronary artery bypass surgery is designed to bypass an existing blood clot to allow oxygen and blood flow to the heart. However, if a person’s lifestyle habits remain the same, a blood clot may form in the newly constructed path to the heart. To avoid post-surgery blood clots, it is recommended that patients seek treatment from their healthcare provider. This may include a diet and exercise program, and the introduction of medications into a person’s daily regimen.

6. Chest Pain

Woman is clutching her chest, acute pain possible heart attack

Directly after coronary artery bypass surgery, most patients will spend one to two days in the intensive care unit. During this time, some patients may experience chest pain as their body is recovering from surgery. Chest pain may occur for several reasons, including musculoskeletal reasons, myocardial ischemia, aortic dissection, wounds or infections, pneumonia or gastritis. If chest pain does not reside shortly after surgery, it is best to seek treatment as soon as possible.

5. Infection

STEMI at right coronary artery

As with all surgeries, there is a risk of post-surgery site infection that may cause many complications. Site infections occur at the location of the surgical puncture. Coronary artery bypass surgery infections are extremely dangerous as they deal with infections near the heart. Infections that occur near the bloodstream or in blood vessels may also be deadly. A 2014 study showed a link between sternal site infection and the increasing rate of patients with severe underlying disease.

4. Kidney Failure

Kidney in the hands of the surgeon

According to a 2006 study, acute renal failure occurs in thirty percent of patients who undergo cardiac surgery. Dialysis is needed in one percent of patients post-surgery. At the time of the study, no single method has been identified to prevent kidney failure in patients post cardiac surgery; however, the likelihood of renal failure depends on the health of the patient when discharged from the hospital. Similar studies note a sixty percent death rate from kidney failure after heart surgeries depending on the severity of the disease.

3. Fever

Beautiful girl with fever

Fever is an indication of inflammation or infection in the body. In some cases, fever is the first sign of a more serious problem. A low-grade fever and chills might be normal right after surgery, but if it occurs days or even weeks after surgery, it may be a sign of infection at the site of the surgery. A patient whose fever reaches over one hundred degrees should seek immediate treatment, especially if the fever is accompanied by pain or nausea.

2. Memory Loss

Migraine or memory loss illness senior man

According to a 2015 Harvard study, memory loss and other cognitive changes might be an uncommon complication of coronary artery bypass surgery. A review published in Annals of Internal Medicine found that the procedure itself may not be to blame for cognitive disruptions as the narrowing or blockage of arteries also cut off the brain’s blood and oxygen supply, which may cause stroke and other cognitive impairments such as memory loss and eventually a stroke.

1. Stroke Or Heart Attack

Mature Man - Heart Attack

The main reason why people undergo coronary artery bypass surgery is to reduce their risk of heart attack and stroke. But in some cases, stroke and heart attack are a serious complication of the surgery. According to a 2014 study, neurological dysfunction after coronary bypass surgery may include stroke in up to five percent of patients. A heart attack can occur if lifestyles changes have not been shifted to include lowering of artery-clogging cholesterol.