Q. I have had six surgical procedures in as many months, the last being a quadruple bypass. My memory and cognitive thinking has diminished considerably, and I’m wondering if gingko biloba will help that.
A. During bypass surgery a machine takes over the function of pumping blood throughout the body. Cardiac surgeons have known for years that some people experience memory and other cognitive problems after such surgery. Recent research has shown that such deficits can last a long time.
There is even a name for this condition. Some surgeons have dubbed it the “pump head problem.” Older, sicker patients seem to especially vulnerable. Some have attributed the neurological deficits to air bubbles or blood clots from the heart-lung machine. Others believe it is caused by reduced blood flow to the brain during surgery itself. On the other hand, it may have less to do with the surgical procedure than depression brought on by slow post-operative recovery.
Physicians are trying to understand what causes this condition and how to prevent it. Cooling people during surgery, with slow re-warming, may provide some protection. Angioplasty may reduce the need for bypass surgery in many patients and lower the likelihood of experiencing cognitive decline.
There is no data to suggest that the herb ginkgo can counteract this problem. On the other hand, it may be worth discussing with your physician since this herb does appear to increase blood flow to the brain. Make sure it won’t interact with any of your other medications.

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  1. Sunny

    Thanx so much for this encouragement. I will have heart surgery in 2 weeks for multiple problems & this article scared me as my husband had a stroke in 09 & that would make 2 of us with cognitive problems.!!!! Your comments, JW, encouraged me so much, Thank you.

  2. crandreww

    I am sorry to hear about your post operative problems. Something that may contribute to your memory/cognitive problems are statin drugs, Because you had a bypass surgery, I assume that you are taking a statin drug, though many doctors don’t know or don’t care to know, there is a wealth of knowledge correlating statins to memory loss and or cognitive dysfunction. If you are taking a statin drug, I would recommend you supplement with Ubiquinol. You can discuss this with your doctor, but a simple explanation on how statin drugs work, they block a key component of the Mevalonate pathway, which blocks cholesterol production, and in doing so also blocks the production of Vitamin D, Ubiquinol, Testosterone, among other key elements crucial to health.
    If you decide to supplement, Be sure to supplement with Ubiquinol (not CoQ10). Ubiquinol is the reduced form of CoQ10, which our bodies are less effectively able to do as we age.
    I wish you a speedy recovery!!

  3. JW

    After open heart surgery (valve related), I also experienced severe memory and cognitive issues. Initially, the docs thought it was related to anesthesia and the drugs, and said it should “wear off”, given more time. After a year and a half, I was referred to a neurologist for testing and evaluation. The MRI showed that certain cells in an area of the back of my brain had been killed during the surgery. He explained that about half of the people who undergo this surgery have a similar reaction, as a person’s blood pressure is lowered so severely for the surgery to occur. The tough news to hear was that the brain cells do not grow back.
    Very unexpectedly, I experienced deep grief around that loss. However, the good news was that, over time, the brain would develop new circuitry to compensate for the lost functioning. It’s now been 3 1/2 years, and the new circuitry continues to develop. The neurologist told me to do various types of puzzles and activities to help my brain develop the new circuitry – but, to be careful to not over do it, as that would increase my already high level of exhuastion. In fact, he said that my exhaustion, which I thought was due to the heart surgery, was more likely because it takes a lot of energy for the brain to develop new circuits.
    So, get rest when you need it, do a few brain activities daily, and be hopeful. By the way, as my brain continues healing, my memory is better, cognitive functioning better, and I have more energy.
    Time and patience, and a very supportive husband and close friends have been key to this process. Being really present to how I was feeling about each aspect of it helped me to heal and stay sane through the process. It still does. I wish you the best in your process!

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