Coronary artery bypass surgery (heart bypass)

Replaces blocked heart veins to improve blood flow and oxygen supply.

Coronary artery bypass surgery or heart bypass surgery is the most effective way to treat seriously clogged heart arteries, also called coronary heart disease (CHD).

Surgeons use portions of healthy veins from elsewhere in the body to replace parts of the arteries in the heart that aren’t working properly to improve blood flow and oxygen supply.

Why you might need it

CHD (coronary heart disease) develops when the two main heart arteries get narrowed and hardened by fatty deposits. Your chances of developing it increase with age but you’re also much more likely to be affected if you’re overweight, eat a high-fat diet or you smoke.

CHD can also lead to angina – chest pain caused by restricted blood supply – and blood clots, which can trigger a heart attack.

If you have been diagnosed as having CHD, you will probably be experiencing symptoms such as breathlessness, chest pain and will be at an increased risk of having a heart attack. This can all significantly impact on your enjoyment of everyday life, not least because CHD is a life threatening condition and you could be worried about your future health. Heart bypass surgery can help improve these symptoms while lowering your risk of having a heart attack in the future.

Heart bypass surgery will be recommended if your arteries are too severely blocked for coronary angioplasty; a smaller procedure that uses small balloons and a tube called a stent for widening.

If you have private medical insurance or are willing to pay for the operation yourself, we can help. You may be referred to one of our respected surgeons via your own GP. We can also make sure you see one of our specialised consultants within a few days of your referral to us.

We pride ourselves on our clinical excellence, you'll be looked after by an experienced multi-disciplinary care team.

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Who will do it?

Our patients are at the heart of what we do and we want you to be in control of your care. To us, that means you can choose the consultant you want to see, and when you want. They'll be with you every step of the way.

All of our consultants are of the highest calibre and benefit from working in our modern, well-equipped hospitals.

Our consultants have high standards to meet, often holding specialist NHS posts and delivering expertise in complex sub-specialty surgeries. Many of our consultants have international reputations for their research in their specialised field.

Before your treatment

You will have a formal consultation with a healthcare professional. During this time you will be able to explain your medical history, symptoms and raise any concerns that you might have.

We will also discuss with you whether any further diagnostic tests, such as scans or blood tests, are needed. Any additional costs will be discussed before further tests are carried out.

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Preparing for your treatment

We’ve tried to make your experience with us as easy and relaxed as possible. 

For more information on visiting hours, our food, parking and all those other important practicalities, please visit our patient information page.

You may be asked to attend a pre-admission clinic for routine tests. You may also be invited to visit the ITU (intensive treatment unit) and meet the nursing staff so that you are familiar with the environment you will be in after surgery. If you smoke, you should do everything you can to give up a few weeks before the operation. This will significantly reduce your risk of breathing problems during and after the operation.

When you arrive at the hospital, your nurse will explain how you will be cared for during your stay. Usually, your surgeon will arrange for you to have blood and urine tests, a chest X-ray and an ECG. If you had these tests at your pre-admission clinic, you usually won’t need them again.

You may have a visit from a physiotherapist, who will discuss your rehabilitation programme. Your surgeon and anaesthetist will also visit you before the operation.

The procedure

We understand that your heart is in our hands and we take caring for it very seriously. Our experienced and caring medical staff will be there for you, holding your hand, every step of the way.

Heart bypass surgery is a major operation during which you will be fully anaesthetised, meaning you’ll be asleep throughout. Your cardiac surgeon will remove small portions of arteries or veins from your legs, arms or chest.

He or she will make a series of incisions around the chest wall to access your heart, then connect the healthy veins to the parts of the arteries that aren't working properly.

Immediately after surgery you will be moved to the intensive care unit so our expert medical staff can keep on eye on you, before we move you to your own private room for recovery.


Most people need to stay in hospital for at least a week. 

After this, you will be taken to your room or comfortable area where you can rest and recuperate until we feel you’re ready to go home.

Your friends and family will be able to visit pretty much anytime you want – we have flexible visiting hours.

Pain relief

Your anaesthetist will prescribe painkillers for the first few days. Suffering from pain could slow down your recovery, so please discuss any discomfort you have with your doctors or nurses. Your chest area will be sore and bruised, so we will provide you with a supply of all the medicines your consultant feels you need to take home with you after you've left hospital, up to 14 days. This may be at an additional cost to some patients.

Recovery time

You will be taken from the operating theatre to the intensive treatment unit (ITU) where you will be closely monitored for around 24 hours. When you wake up from the anaesthesia, you will be connected to machines that record the activity of your heart, lungs and other body systems.

You will be advised on the steps you should take to aid your recovery before you leave the hospital but everyone recovers from this sort of operation at a different speed.

A physiotherapist will see you each day during your hospital stay. They will run through some gentle exercises to help maintain your circulation and will offer support and advice to help get you back on your feet.

Before you leave the hospital, your consultant may give you a thorough checkup and repeat some of the tests that you had before your operation, such as the ECG.

A letter will be sent to your GP, but you should also make sure that your GP knows that you are returning home after having this operation.

At your follow-up appointment, your consultant will give you advice about resuming your other normal activities, including returning to work, if applicable. A full recovery can take two to three months.

How your loved ones can help

Once you’re ready to be discharged, you’ll need to arrange a taxi, friend or family member to take you home because you won’t be able to drive. You should also ask them to help with shopping and cleaning for about a month.

Looking after you

We’re with you every step of the way through your recovery, even after you’ve left hospital.

After your operation we will provide you with all the appropriate medication, lifestyle advice and any other follow-up support you need. You will be given a contact telephone number for the hospital and a follow-up appointment with your consultant. This is usually about six weeks later.

Your physiotherapist may give you more printed information to take home, including diagrams to demonstrate the correct exercise techniques for rehabilitation. The hospital will give you advice about a programme of rehabilitation, either at the hospital or at another local health centre.

Heart bypass surgery can improve your symptoms and reduce the risk of having a heart attack, but it's important to remember that it will not cure your coronary heart disease. You need to make sure you make healthy lifestyle choices such as eating well and exercising. We can help give you the support you need to keep you on the path of good health.

Complications may require further treatment, such as returning to theatre to stop bleeding, or antibiotics to deal with an infection. Very rarely, the chest needs to be re-opened, either on the ward or back in theatre.

We will talk to you about the possible risks and complications of having this procedure and how they apply to you.

If you have any questions or concerns about your recovery, we're ready to help.

Why choose Spire?

We are committed to delivering excellent individual care and customer service across our network of hospitals, clinics and specialist care centres around the UK. Our dedicated and highly trained team aim to achieve consistently excellent results. For us it's more than just treating patients, it's about looking after people.


Important to note

The treatment described on this page may be adapted to meet your individual needs, so it's important to follow your healthcare professional's advice and raise any questions that you may have with them.

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