Background. Subjective memory complaints are common after coronary artery bypass grafting (CABG), but previous studies have concluded that such symptoms are more closely associated with depressed mood than objective cognitive dysfunction. We compared the incidence of self-reported memory symptoms at 3 and 12 months after CABG with that of a control group of patients with comparable risk factors for coronary artery disease but without surgery.

Methods. Patients undergoing CABG (n = 140) and a demographically similar nonsurgical control group with coronary artery disease (n = 92) were followed prospectively at 3 and 12 months. At each follow-up time, participants were asked about changes since the previous evaluation in areas of memory, calculations, reading, and personality. A Functional Status Questionnaire (FSQ) and self-report measure of symptoms of depression (CES-D) were also completed.

Results. The frequency of self-reported changes in memory, personality, and reading at 3 months was significantly higher among CABG patients than among nonsurgical controls. By contrast, there were no differences in the frequency of self-reported symptoms relating to calculations or overall rating of functional status. After adjusting for a measure of depression (CES-D rating score), the risk for self-reported memory changes remained nearly 5 times higher among the CABG patients than control subjects. The relative risk of developing new self-reported memory symptoms between 3 and 12 months was 2.5 times higher among CABG patients than among nonsurgical controls (CI 1.24 – 5.02), and the overall prevalence of memory symptoms at 12 months was also higher among CABG patients (39%) than controls (14%).

Conclusions. The frequency of self-reported memory symptoms 3 and 12 months after baseline is significantly higher among CABG patients than control patients with comparable risk factors for coronary and cerebrovascular disease. These differences could not be accounted for by symptoms of depression. The self-reported cognitive symptoms appear to be relatively specific for memory, and may reflect aspects of memory functioning that are not captured by traditional measures of new verbal learning and memory. The etiology of these self-reported memory symptoms remains unclear, but our findings as well as those of others, may implicate factors other than cardiopulmonary bypass itself.


Health Services Research