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Coronary Artery Bypass Graft Surgery: How to Prepare
How do you prepare for CABG surgery?
There are many things that you can and must do in the days and weeks before your coronary artery bypass graft (CABG) surgery. Your surgeon will give you specific instructions on how to prepare for your CABG surgery.
CABG surgery is an invasive procedure that has a fairly long recovery time, so it is important that you prepare carefully for your surgery as well as for the days and weeks following your surgery. Try to make your life simpler during the recovery period by doing things such as paying bills ahead of time and arranging for someone to assist you in the days following your surgery. It is also important to plan for any complications that could arise. A lot of the preparation that you do before your surgery will help you afterward, while you are recovering.
In the 2 or 3 weeks prior to surgery, attend any scheduled appointments with your surgeon. You will need to have several tests done before your surgery. Most of these tests are done so that your doctors can evaluate and compare your health before and after CABG surgery. The tests can also help your doctors anticipate any special needs. To be ready by the day of your surgery, the tests need to be done days or weeks before.
Tests done days or weeks before surgery
- Blood count (hematocrit): This blood test can reveal whether you are anemic (have a low red blood cell count). A very low blood count may need to be increased before or during surgery with a blood transfusion.
- Prothrombin time (PT, also referred to as INR) and thromboplastin time (PTT) values: These blood tests measure your blood's ability to clot. Typically, you will have these tests if you have recently stopped taking blood-thinning drugs, to make sure the drugs are no longer affecting your blood's ability to clot.
- Other blood tests: Other tests may be done to assess your kidney and liver functions and provide information on the health of these organs.
- Chest X-ray: This test provides a picture of the size and shape of your heart and aorta and whether your lungs appear normal.
- Cardiac catheterization: This test allows your doctor to picture your coronary arteries and identify the location of blockages to help plan your CABG surgery.
Medicine and CABG surgery
You may need to stop taking certain medicines a week or more before surgery, so talk to your doctor as soon as you can.
Tell your doctors all the medicines, vitamins, supplements, and herbal remedies you take. Some of these can increase the risk of bleeding or interact with anesthesia. Your doctor will tell you which medicines to take or stop before your surgery.
If you take aspirin or some other blood thinner, be sure to talk to your doctor. He or she will tell you if you should stop taking this medicine before your surgery. Make sure that you understand exactly what your doctor wants you to do.
On the day of your CABG operation, you should have only a sip of water with any medicine so that you keep your stomach empty.
If you have diabetes, your doctors may need to adjust your medicines to prepare for your CABG surgery. Since CABG surgery requires you to stop eating several hours before your procedure, your blood glucose level may drop so low that your regular medicines (which lower your glucose level) may not be needed. Talk to your doctors about the type and severity of your diabetes, as well as which medicines you are taking.
- Arrange for transportation the day of your surgery, for someone to help you at home during your first week out of the hospital, and for someone to help with chores and errands for 1 to 2 months after your surgery. You may be too physically tired and sore after your surgery to do many things for yourself.
- Prepay any bills that will be due soon after your surgery. You will probably want to concentrate on recovering, not on everyday affairs.
- Arrange your personal matters, including a will, living will, and nursing preferences. In rare cases, serious complications of CABG surgery (including death) can happen. So you should plan for this possibility and make sure that you have made your end-of-life wishes clear.
You should discuss complications of CABG surgery a few weeks beforehand with both your surgeon and your family. In particular, you may wish to clarify your desires about matters such as life support (such as a breathing tube or medicines to keep you alive) and resuscitation measures (such as chest compressions and electric shock) in case of an emergency.
Also, you may want to consider becoming an organ and tissue donor. If you are an organ and tissue donor, your liver, lungs, kidneys, and other organs can be donated to another person who needs them in case you die during your surgery. Although only a very small percentage of all CABG surgeries done result in death, it is important to prepare in case this happens.
The day before your surgery
- Remind the person who will drive you to the hospital what time you need to be there. It is important to arrive on time, as several preoperative tests and administrative tasks must be done.
- Follow the instructions about exactly when to stop eating and drinking. If you don't, your surgery may be canceled. If your doctor has instructed you to take your medicines on the day of surgery, do so using only a sip of water.
- Relax, but do not drink alcohol. It may dangerously interfere with medicines you will be given on the day of your surgery.
- Use disinfecting solution (that your doctor may have given you) to clean your skin. This will minimize the risk of infection near your chest incision.
- Select comfortable clothes to wear to and from the hospital. After the surgery, your wounds and muscles will still be sensitive, and comfortable clothing is less likely to irritate them.
- Pack the bag that you will bring to the hospital. In general, hospital staff recommend that you pack lightly.
What to bring to the hospital
- Contact and emergency information
- Insurance information
- Essential items, including glasses, hearing aids, dentures, or other personal items that you need to function
- Comfortable clothes that are easy to put on and take off to wear to and from the hospital
What NOT to bring to the hospital
- Anything valuable
- Personal care items
(The hospital will usually provide you with shampoo, conditioner, soap, lotion, toothbrush, toothpaste, and shaving equipment.)
Items you can bring if you want
- Entertainment such as magazines or books to pass the time before and after surgery
- A robe
The day of your surgery
Plan to arrive several hours before your CABG surgery begins. Several more tests and administrative tasks must be done before you are ready for surgery. To learn more, see the topic Coronary Artery Bypass Surgery: When You Arrive at the Hospital.
What to think about
When you prepare for your CABG surgery, you can take an active role. By asking questions and educating yourself, you can take control of your experience. In your weeks of recovery after your surgery, you will be glad that you did.
Other Works Consulted
- Gray RJ, Sethna DH (2012). Medical management of the patient undergoing cardiac surgery. In RO Bonow et al., eds., Braunwald's Heart Disease: A Textbook of Cardiovascular Medicine, 9th ed., vol. 2, pp. 1793–1810. Philadelphia: Saunders.
- Hillis LD, et al. 2011 ACCF/AHA Guideline for coronary artery bypass graft surgery: A report of the American College of Cardiology Foundation/American Heart Association Task Force on Practice Guidelines. Circulation, 124(23): e652–e735.
Current as of: December 16, 2019
Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review: Rakesh K. Pai, MD - Cardiology, Electrophysiology
Martin J. Gabica, MD - Family Medicine
E. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal Medicine
Adam Husney, MD - Family Medicine
David C. Stuesse, MD - Cardiac and Thoracic Surgery
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