The most common heart operation in the U.S. is bypass surgery. More than 200,000 are performed each year.1
During the procedure, the surgeon typically takes a vein from your leg and uses it to reroute your heart’s blood supply around a blocked coronary artery.
Although the surgery is common, it’s still serious. The doctor must crack your chest (cut through your sternum) to access your heart. And your heart is stopped during the operation. You are put on a heart-lung machine.
About 4% of patients don’t survive the surgery. Sometimes they have a heart attack or stroke during—or right after—the procedure. Or they have uncontrollable bleeding.2
But most patients and their doctors believe that if you make it through the first few weeks, you are out of the woods.
A surprising new study shows that’s not true.
Danish researchers at the Aarhus University Hospital followed more than 50,000 heart bypass patients for 30 years. They compared their mortality to people of the same age and sex who had not had a bypass.
As you would expect, in the first month after surgery, heart bypass patients were at much greater risk of dying than the general population. Their death risk was 16 times higher.
Then, for the next eight to 10 years, bypass patients stabilize. They have about the same death risk as a person who has not had heart surgery.
But 10 years after a bypass operation, something bad happens.
Researchers found that, suddenly, patients start dying at a much higher rate than the general population. Their mortality jumps by up to 80%.
The study was published in the journal Circulation.
Bypass Patients Get 10 Good Years
Dr. Kasper Adelborg is with Aarhus University’s Department of Clinical Epidemiology. He led the study.
Dr. Adelborg says the research did not reveal why heart bypass patients take a turn for the worse after 10 years. He theorizes that the bypass graft may weaken over time. Or other arteries may become blocked.
Whatever the cause, the findings mean that heart patients should undergo thorough heart testing eight years after a bypass…even if they’ve had no problems since their surgery, he says.
“There are special reasons to do this after the initial eight to 10 years, as we now know that ‘something’ happens,” Dr. Adelborg said.
Get These Two Crucial Heart Tests
Doctors typically monitor your heart health by checking your cholesterol and triglycerides. But there are two other screenings that are even more important…
Two-Hour Insulin Glucose Challenge Test: It reveals if you are insulin resistant. Many researchers believe this is the root cause of most heart attacks.3
Have the insulin test done first thing in the morning after you have fasted overnight. Your blood sugar and insulin levels will be checked (with a finger stick). Then you’ll be given a glucose drink. Your sugar and insulin levels will be checked again after one hour and then after two hours.4
Your fasting blood sugar level should be less than 80 mg/dL. After drinking the glucose, it should not rise above 120 mg/dL.
Your fasting insulin level should be less than 5 mg/dL. It should not rise above 30 mg/dL after drinking glucose.
High-Sensitivity C-Reactive Protein (CRP) Test: Insulin resistance causes heart disease by triggering inflammation in your arteries. The high-sensitivity CRP test is the inflammation screening that most accurately predicts heart disease.
More than 30 epidemiologic studies have shown a direct correlation between high levels of CRP and future heart attacks.5 6
A CRP test requires a small blood draw. Do not take this test while you have a cold or another infection because your reading will be temporarily elevated while your body fights it. And if you have arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease, or some other condition that causes inflammation, your CRP level likely is chronically high. Therefore, this test may not be helpful to you in assessing heart risk.7
If your CRP reading is below 1.0 mg/L, you have almost no chance of having a heart attack. But your number should be no higher than 3.0.8 9