Improving outcomes for coronary artery bypass surgery

If you have coronary artery disease (CAD), in which one or more of the main blood vessels feeding your heart is blocked, you may be facing coronary artery bypass surgery. A desire to improve outcomes after surgery and advances in technology have led surgeons to perform coronary artery bypass surgery without cardiopulmonary bypass, called off-pump bypass (also called "beating heart") surgery.

Traditionally, coronary artery bypass surgery is performed with the assistance of cardiopulmonary bypass. The heart-lung machine allows the heart’s beating to be stopped, so that the surgeon can operate on a surface which is blood-free and still. The heart-lung machine maintains life despite the lack of a heartbeat, removing carbon dioxide from the blood and replacing it with oxygen before pumping it around the body. The heart-lung machine has saved countless lives.

Off-pump coronary artery bypass surgery differs from traditional coronary artery bypass surgery, because the heart-lung machine is not used. Rather than stopping the heart, technological advances and new kinds of operating equipment now allow the surgeon to hold stabilize portions of the heart during surgery. With a particular area of the heart stabilized, the surgeon can go ahead and bypass the blocked artery in a highly controlled operative environment. Meanwhile, the rest of the heart keeps pumping and circulating blood to the body.

Off-pump coronary artery bypass surgery may be performed in certain patients with coronary artery disease. With present technology, all arteries on the heart can be bypassed off-pump. It may be ideal for certain patients who are at increased risk for complications from cardiopulmonary bypass, such as those who have heavy aortic calcification, liver cirrhosis, or compromised pulmonary or renal function. Not all patients are a candidate. The selection of patients who undergo off-pump surgery is made at the time of surgery when the patient's heart and arteries are evaluated more closely.