Is It True That Bypass Surgery Can Cause Dementia?

Question: Is it true that bypass surgery can cause dementia?

Answer: It's certainly true that a significant number of patients -- a third, maybe even half, of patients who have surgery, who have heart surgery, will notice what are called neurocognitive changes early after surgery.

In other words, they may notice differences in their memory, differences in their mood. And if one does sophisticated testing, psychological testing, you can find abnormalities.

In the vast majority of cases, those resolve within six weeks to three months. And the reasons for those changes are uncertain. Some have hypothesized that it's due to the heart-lung machine itself.

However, it turns out that if you look at neurocognitive testing of patients after off-pump heart surgery, the changes are no different than if the surgery is done on-pump.

In fact, if you actually look at patients who had angioplasty, they'll have the same neurocognitive changes.

So it seems likely that it's related, in part, to the underlying disease the patients have, atherosclerotic disease, hardening of the arteries. And it probably also relates, to some degree, to the depression and anxiety that many people feel when they discover that they got the diagnosis of coronary artery disease.

There's actually a close correlation between depression scores and neurocognitive changes. And it's for that reason that we feel it's very important for patients to take ownership, to take, to seize charge of their health care, to improve their own fitness, and I think that that will improve their depression scores and their neurocognitive changes as well.

So, exercise, eating right, quitting smoking, all of those things to turn your life around once you've found out that you have coronary artery disease can be very important for both your health and your mental well-being.

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