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What is Arterial Bypass Surgery?

By M.R. Anglin
Updated May 17, 2024
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Arterial bypass surgery is a procedure in which a surgeon takes a blood vessel, or a graft, and uses it to create another passage around a blocked area of an artery. This graft can be either a vessel harvested from another area of the patient or a graft made out of a synthetic material. Many times, arterial bypass surgery is used to help restore blood flow in cases where peripheral artery disease (PAD) has obstructed blood flow to a leg. PAD is a condition in which plaque builds up in a person’s arteries, causing it to become hard and to narrow. In such cases, blood flow can be reduced, and the tissues in the leg can starve and die.

A doctor may recommend arterial bypass surgery when a person experiences intermittent claudication, pain in the leg while resting, as well as when there is gangrene, or when ulceration has occurred. Intermittent claudication is a condition in which a person can only walk so long before he experiences pain, cramping or other sensations, usually in the calf muscle. If the artery is blocked severely enough, a person may experience discomfort or pain while he is resting. When the pain occurs while resting, it often means that blood flow is severely restricted and that the leg may be in danger. Gangrene and ulcers can also form if blood cannot properly flow to the extremities.

When performing an arterial bypass surgery, a surgeon will first need to find an appropriate graft to use. In some cases, the graft can be artificially made out of materials that can stand up to large amounts of blood flow. When the graft will accommodate a lower blood flow rate, a vessel harvested from another area of the body can be used. Often, this vessel can be found in the leg, but a doctor can also use a vessel harvested from the arm. Once the vessel is selected, the surgeon can move on to bypassing the blockage.

In order to restore blood flow, a surgeon performing arterial bypass surgery will use the graft to carry blood around the blocked area. The graft can be seen as a detour route for blood. To accomplish this, a surgeon will have to cut above and below the blocked area of artery and stitch the two ends of the graft in its place. Normally, he will use nylon-like stitching to hold the graft in place. These sutures are not often removed.

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