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Heart bypass surgery

A coronary artery bypass graft (CABG) is surgery to treat coronary heart disease.

Woman with heart pain ahead of her coronary heart bypass surgery
A coronary artery bypass graft (CABG), also known as coronary bypass surgery or heart bypass surgery, is an operation used to treat coronary heart disease.

A CABG is done using open surgery, which is where your surgeon makes a large incision (cut) into your chest and moves your ribs in order to access your heart directly. It diverts your blood away from narrowed or clogged arteries and into new blood vessels, known as grafts. This improves blood flow and oxygen supply to your heart.

Coronary artery bypass surgery can reduce angina and may lower your risk of heart attack.

The cost of heart bypass surgery will depend on a variety of factors, including which hospital and which consultant you choose, as well as how long you need to stay in hospital. Call today to speak to our advisors and get a tailored quote.

Our fixed-price packages include the cost of your surgery and all appropriate aftercare appointments. However, any pre-surgery diagnostic tests and your consultant's outpatient appointment consultation fee are charged separately.

Our flexible payment options help you spread the cost of your payment across a time period that suits you. We offer fixed-term monthly payment plans over 10 months to five years with no deposit required. If you decide to pay over 10 months, you will pay interest-free. If you are paying for a longer period, you will pay 14.9% APR.

If you have private health insurance, heart surgery will usually be covered by your provider. Speak to your insurer directly to find out.

CABG surgery is used to treat a condition called coronary heart disease. This condition causes two main problems: angina and heart attack. If you have symptoms of angina that are damaging your quality of life, or if your cardiologist thinks your heart disease puts you at serious risk of heart attack, they may recommend a heart bypass.

Coronary heart disease

This is when your coronary arteries (the main blood vessels that serve your heart) have become clogged with fatty deposits called plaques.

Plaques build up over time and cause your arteries to thicken or harden in a process called atherosclerosis. As a result, it becomes harder for blood to flow through your coronary arteries and into your heart. This blood brings oxygen to your heart, and so a problem with blood flow to the heart also reduces your heart's oxygen supply.

Coronary heart disease (also known as coronary artery disease) can lead to:


Angina is the name for chest pain and other symptoms caused by reduced blood flow to the heart muscle. These include:

  • Chest pain
  • Shortness of breath
  • Pain travelling through your body
  • Feeling faint or dizzy
  • Feeling nauseated

Heart attack

A heart attack can happen when a blood clot stops the flow of blood to the heart. If you have plaque in your coronary arteries, sometimes a bit breaks off and creates a blood clot, which can cause a completely blocked artery. This can trigger a heart attack, because the blood supply to your heart has stopped.

Heart attacks don't automatically happen because you have coronary heart disease, however in the long term your risk is increased. If your cardiologist feels that your risk of heart attack is significant, they may recommend CABG or other heart surgery.

Coronary heart disease (CHD) develops slowly over time. Not everyone will have symptoms. Some people have a heart attack without noticing any previous signs of CHD.

If you do have symptoms of CHD, it's generally angina, which includes:

  • Chest pain (which might feel tight, dull or heavy)
  • Pain that spreads elsewhere in your body
  • Shortness of breath
  • Feeling faint
  • Feeling sick

Your symptoms might be triggered by exercise or stress, and they'll often calm down or stop within a few minutes of resting.

The main risk factor for CHD is age, as the condition develops over time. Other risk factors include:

  • High blood pressure
  • High levels of 'bad' cholesterol
  • Having diabetes
  • Smoking
  • Obesity
  • A sedentary lifestyle with little exercise
  • Genetics (coronary heart disease can run in families and is more prevalent among certain ethnic groups)

If you need cardiac treatment with Circle Health Group, the first step will usually be an initial consultation with a cardiologist. This is a crucial appointment during which your specialist will make or confirm a diagnosis of your heart health, testing for any suspected problems. It's also where we start to get to know you as an individual, which is a really important part of our philosophy.

Your consultant will probably organise a selection of diagnostic tests during this first appointment. Sometimes these can be done on the same day, and sometimes you'll have to come back another day to have them done. It depends on which tests you need.

As well as arranging tests, they will ask you lots of questions about your medical history, your symptoms and what brought you to see us, as well as more personal questions about your lifestyle and interests. We tailor our treatment plans to the individual, so we like to know what's important to you and what you want to get out of your treatment before we make our recommendations.

Once we have the results of your diagnostic tests, your consultant will be able to make a diagnosis and start putting together a treatment plan for you. This will be bespoke to you and they won't make any decisions before discussing them with you in detail.

If you decide that heart bypass surgery is the best option, you'll probably be referred to one of our cardiac surgeons, as cardiologists don't generally perform CABG operations themselves. Our cardiologists and cardiac surgeons work closely together, along with multidisciplinary teams including various healthcare professionals such as nurses, physiotherapists and cardiac physiologists. So, rather than being passed from team to team, your treatment journey with us should be seamless.

Before you have surgery, you'll have what's known as a pre-assessment, where we'll make sure you're physically fit enough to have the operation. We might do tests to check how your heart is working, for example an ECG or chest X-ray, or blood tests. They'll also ask questions about any allergies you have or if you've reacted badly to medication or anaesthetic in the past.

Someone from our cardiology team will talk you through what to expect from the operation, and you can feel free to ask as many questions as you like. Your consultant is also available throughout your treatment journey to answer any questions you might have.

Before surgery, we might ask you to stop taking certain medications, and if you smoke we will ask you to stop this - at least temporarily. Smoking can slow down your recovery from surgery and also increases the risk of post-surgical complications including blood clots.

We find that people feel better if they come into hospital freshly bathed or showered in clean clothes. And don't forget to remove any nail polish before surgery.

Preparing your home ahead of time

Heart surgery is a major operation and you'll be very tired when you get home. It will be a while before you feel back to normal.

Before you come to hospital, we recommend that you prepare your home for your return so that things are easily within reach and you have food and drink that's easy to prepare. So, make sure you have somewhere comfy to sit with essentials like books and the TV remote nearby, and stock your fridge and freezer with food. Arrange for a friend or loved one to help with things like groceries and cleaning.

A coronary artery bypass means that your blood is redirected away from a damaged or blocked coronary artery and directed through a newly grafted artery. We take this replacement artery from an area in your body that has enough blood vessels that it won't be missed; usually your leg, chest or arm.

So, a healthy artery from elsewhere in your body is used to replace the artery that has been affected by plaque. Blood can then flow more freely to your heart, and with it oxygen.
CAGB surgery can involve the replacement of up to four arteries, and you might hear this referred to as a double, triple or quadruple bypass.

All types of heart bypass are done using open heart surgery, which means making a large incision (cut) into your chest and dividing your breastbone in order to access your heart. Your surgeon will first collect the healthy blood vessels they're going to graft, before beginning the incision.

In most instances, we will give you a medicine to stop your heart temporarily, and later - once the graft or grafts have been completed - it is restarted using electrical shocks. To keep blood and oxygen pumping through your body during this period, we use something called a heart-lung bypass machine. Some people will have surgery without stopping your heart, meaning we won't need to use the heart-lung bypass machine.

When surgery is finished, your breastbone is fixed together using permanent metal wires, while the incision in your chest is sewn up using dissolvable stitches.

The surgery will usually take between three and six hours to perform. You will need to be under a general anaesthetic during this time, which means you'll be unconscious and won't feel (or remember) what happens during surgery.

Recovering in hospital

After a coronary artery bypass graft, you will usually need to stay in hospital for about a week. We'll monitor you very closely to make sure you're recovering well and feeling ok. You will probably feel groggy after the operation, because of the anaesthetic, and you'll be very tired as your body recovers from surgery. You might be in a bit of discomfort for a while, but we'll give you painkillers so you shouldn't feel too bad.

Everyone recovers at their own pace, but as a rough guide, you should be able to sit up after a day, walk after three days, and go up and down stairs at around five or six days after surgery.

Most people stay with us for about seven days, though we won't send you home until we're confident that you're on the road to recovery, and until you feel comfortable doing so.

While you're in hospital, our team will start talking to you about something called cardiac rehabilitation, which is a sort of recovery plan to help you get back to normal as soon as possible after heart surgery. They'll give you tips on how to optimise your chances of a quick recovery and advise you on lifestyle changes that can improve your heart health and reduce the risk of further problems.

When you're ready to go home, you'll need someone to collect you as you won't be safe to drive yet. If you like, we can arrange for a taxi to take you home.

Once home, you will need to take it easy for a good few weeks. Your consultant will give you a more specific timeline based on your personal circumstances.

Six weeks after surgery

By about six weeks after surgery, most people feel able to get back to normal life and everyday activities, including work. Though if you have a manual job you will probably need to take more time off.

Six weeks after CABG it should also be safe for you to have sex, partake in moderate exercise, and drive. Double check with your consultant and your insurer about driving, just to be safe.

12 weeks after surgery

Most people recover from coronary artery bypass surgery within 12 weeks. Your consultant will be in touch during this period to keep an eye on your progress, and you'll be asked to come and see us for at least one check-up while you recover. We won't discharge you fully until we're all happy with how you're feeling after surgery.

There are risks associated with any surgery, and heart bypass surgery is a major operation that carries a small risk of major complications. However, the most common complications following CABG are relatively minor and can be treated.

Minor complications can include an irregular heartbeat or an infection in the cut used to access your chest. More serious complications include heart attack and stroke.

Electrician Stewart Barclay was visiting London from Glasgow with his wife when his symptoms started. He felt pain and discomfort in his left arm and felt "really shattered" by the end of the day. He put this down to exhaustion after a day of sightseeing. He'd recently fallen onto his arm, too, so at first he brushed his worries aside.

"My arm was really sore. I had to sit up most of the night because the pain was so bad," he says. "But I never really though of any heart problems, because it wasn't in my chest."

However, in the morning his wife insisted that he call an ambulance, and when the paramedics arrived an ECG showed that he had been having a heart attack.

After a week in hospital in London, Stewart was told he would need a triple bypass. "I've always had private healthcare and I've used it a few times, so I thought I'd look into the options," he explains. He chose to have surgery at Ross Hall Hospital in his hometown of Glasgow.

"I expected to wait a couple of months for treatment. What actually happened was, from the initial phone call with the surgeon, to being in surgery, was only just over a week."

Stewart was delighted with the service at Ross Hall, where he stayed in one of our private ensuite rooms. "The aftercare was amazing, there was constantly something happening, they were monitoring me all the time. Everything was so good."

"If anyone is considering cardiac surgery, I definitely recommend going private with Circle Health Group."

Stewart's recovery is well underway and he's feeling almost back to normal after his surgery. "I still can't believe I've had a heart attack, but I've got the scars to prove it!"

Scroll down to watch Stewart talk more about his story.

We answer some of the most frequently asked questions about heart bypass surgery.

How serious is heart bypass surgery?

Heart bypass surgery is a major operation and one that we don't recommend unless it's definitely the best choice for you. Still, it is performed regularly and is considered a very successful procedure that can help people with coronary heart disease live a healthier and longer life.

How long does a heart bypass take?

A heart bypass operation usually takes between three and six hours.

Can you live a normal life after bypass surgery?

The purpose of heart bypass surgery is to remove the difficult symptoms associated with angina and reduce your risk of heart attack, allowing you to get back to living life as normal. Many people see a significant improvement in their quality of life.

What is the difference between bypass surgery and open heart surgery?

Coronary artery bypass graft surgery (CABG) is a type of open heart surgery. Open heart surgery is an umbrella term for any heart surgery that is done by opening up your chest to access your heart, rather than using a minimally invasive method (keyhole surgery).

What is a triple heart bypass?

A heart bypass involves replacing one or more of the arteries that supply blood to your heart (known as your coronary arteries). If you have three of your coronary arteries replaced, this is often called a triple heart bypass. If you have two coronary arteries replaced this can be called a double heart bypass, and a quadruple bypass is when you have four arteries replaced. These are all variations of a coronary artery bypass graft procedure, also known as a heart bypass.

The first step is usually an initial consultation. Unless your GP or insurer has told you otherwise, you should book your first appointment with one of our cardiology consultants.

You can do this by calling our dedicated team of friendly advisors, or by taking advantage of our easy online booking system.

At Circle Health Group, there are three ways you can pay for treatment. You can use your private health insurance, you can pay for yourself in full, or you can us our flexible payment options to spread the cost.

If you have private medical insurance, speak to your insurer about how to get a referral to one of our hospitals. We work with all major health insurance providers.

If you are paying for your own treatment and would like to spread the cost to make it more affordable, we work with Chrysalis Finance to offer loans that can be paid back over a period of one to five years.

When you choose to go private with Circle Health Group, you can expect:

  • Flexible appointment times to fit your schedule
  • The freedom to choose your hospital and your consultant
  • Bespoke, consultant-led treatment plans tailored to your individual needs
  • Private ensuite rooms as standard
  • Tasty and nutritious meals cooked onsite to your dietary requirements
  • Support from the same compassionate clinical team from beginning to end
  • Affordable, fixed-price packages with aftercare included
  • Flexible payment options to help spread the cost of your care

If you want to know more about cardiology and how we can help you look after your heart, book your appointment online today or call a member of our team directly on 0141 300 5009.

Content reviewed by Circle in-house team in August 2022. Next review due August 2025.

  1. Coronary artery bypass graft, NHS
  2. Coronary artery bypass surgery, Mayo Clinic
  3. Coronary artery bypass surgery (CABG), British Heart Foundation
  4. Heart bypass surgery: Types of procedure, recovery times, and outlook, Medical News Today
  5. Coronary Artery Bypass Surgery, Cleveland Clinic

Why Stewart went private for heart surgery

Stewart needed coronary artery bypass surgery after suffering a heart attack.

Find out why he chose to go private with Circle Health Group.

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