The inner surfaces of the healthy arteries are smooth and flexible, which permit blood to flow freely and reach the muscle of the heart. When walls become clogged with scar tissue which includes fatty materials, the result is a condition known as atherosclerosis.
Many factors can contribute to atherosclerosis – some of which are: high blood pressure, elevated blood cholesterol, smoking, diabetes, a family history of atherosclerosis and lack of regular physical activity. In some cases the reduced flow of blood to the heart can cause angina (chest pain, arm or throat discomfort), shortness of breath, or a heart attack. When blockage is severe, surgery may be required to reroute the blood supply around a damaged or blocked coronary artery, a process known as “bypass grafting.”
The purpose of coronary bypass surgery is to circumvent the blockages in your coronary arteries. Surgeons use an artery in your chest, the internal mammary artery, and/or segments of leg veins called the saphenous veins. When the internal mammary artery is utilized, one end is usually left attached to the subclavian artery supplying blood to your arms and the cut end is connected just beyond the blockage in the coronary artery. When veins are used, one end of the vein is attached to the Aorta and the other end is connected just beyond the blocked area of the artery to “bypass” the obstruction. Other conduits that can be used include the radial artery from either forearm or veins from the upper arm (cephalic veins). The resulting improvement in blood flow through the arteries can reduce or eliminate angina, prevent heart attacks, and improve long-term survival.