Bypass surgery and memory

Temporary changes in memory and thinking skills are common after bypass surgery. Don't blame the heart-lung bypass pump.

Coronary artery bypass surgery offers a new lease on life for upwards of half a million Americans a year. Rerouting blood flow around cholesterol-clogged or blocked arteries brings extra oxygen and nutrients to regions of the heart that hadn't been getting their fair share. This eases angina, the chest pain that appears when the demand for oxygenated blood exceeds the supply. Bypass surgery also helps extend life in people with congestive heart failure and other serious conditions.

Given the disruption to the body — the traditional approach requires splitting the breastbone, stopping the heart, and using a pump to oxygenate and circulate blood — it's amazing that most people come through bypass surgery with only some scars as a long-term reminder. This isn't to say the operation is a walk in the park. For every 100 Americans who undergo it, 1 to 2 die within a month, and 2 to 3 have a stroke.

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