As your vascular surgeon has explained to you, the main artery in your abdomen, the abdominal aorta, has a weak and swollen area (abdominal aortic aneurysm). In order to prevent bursting (rupture) of the aneurysm, you need to have an operation for replacement of this part of the aorta with a graft.
This method was selected in your case as a better option over endovascular repair either because the anatomical features (shape, extent, relation to the renal arteries etc) of your aneurysm are not favourable for repair with a stented graft (EVAR) or on grounds of your age and medical history.
Before the operation is performed, certain investigations and tests need to be done. These are of two kinds:
The physician will have probably asked you to discontinue for a few days (if you take) any anticoagulant, like Warfarin or Sintrom, or antiplatelet drugs like Clopidogrel (Iscover, Plavix) or Aspirin, in order to reduce the risk for bleeding.
When you are admitted, it will be quite useful to bring with you all medications you are on. Your medical history will be recorded. Later, your vascular surgeon and the anaesthetist who will put you to sleep will visit. They will explain certain aspects of the procedure and of the immediate postoperative care you will receive at the Intensive Care Unit. You will be asked to sign a form confirming that you understand why the procedure needs to be performed, the risks of the procedure and that you agree to the surgery.
The first part of any operation is the administration of anaesthesia. Initially, your anaesthetist will probably insert an epidural catheter in your back to provide pain relief during and after the operation. Through an IV in your arm, used to provide you with fluids and medications, you will receive the anaesthetic which will put you to sleep within a few seconds. Then, a “central” venous catherer will probably be inserted in a large vein in your neck to give you the fluids required during and after the operation, and an “arterial line” will be used for continuous monitoring of your blood pressure. A urinary catheter will be placed in your bladder to monitor your urine output. Sometimes, a nasogastric tube (passed through a nostril into your stomach) is placed to prevent nausea and vomiting after the operation.
A large incision will be done in your abdomen and – if necessary – two smaller ones in your groin areas. After control of blood flow in the aorta has been achieved, the weakened part of your aorta with the aneurysm is incised and opened. It will be replaced with a graft, or a plastic tube, which allows your blood to flow through it.
The graft is made of very strong durable plastic material, either Dacron (polyester) or PTFE (polytetrafluorethylene) in the size of normal aorta, and is either straight or bifurcated. Then, the redundant sac of the aneurysm will be sewn to cover the graft. The wounds will be closed either with nylon stitches or metal clips, which will be removed in 10-12 days, or with absorbable sutures.
The graft lasts for a lifetime and is very unlikely to require replacement. The operation is successful in 95-98% of cases.
Following the operation you will be transferred to the Intensive Care Unit (or High Dependency Unit) for closer observation, where you wil stay for 24-48 hours. Occasionally, you need to remain intubated for a while, but efforts will be made to reduce this period to the minimum. There, you may also start chest physiotherapy.
After this operation, it is common for the bowels to stop working for a few days and during this period you will be given all your fluids with a drip. It may be necessary for you to have a blood transfusion. The nursing and medical staff will try to keep you free of pain and will explain you how.
Over the next few days as you start to recover, the various tubes will be removed and you will return to the normal ward until you are fit enough to go home (usually 5-8 days after the operation).
You will be given a small injection every day to lower your chance of getting a deep vein thrombosis or pulmonary embolus after the operation. These will continue until you are fully mobile and discharged from hospital.
You will often feel tired but this will improve as time goes by. It will take you 2-3 months to fully recover but this period depends upon your age.
As with any major operation there is a small risk of you having a medical complication, such heart attack, stroke or chest problems
After this particular operation, you may get kidney failure or loss of circulation in the legs or bowel
Chest infection may happen especially in smokers, and chest physiotherapy and/or antibiotics may be required
The surgical wounds may get infected and require antibiotics. Serious infections, however, are rare
Infection in the artificial artery is very rare (1 in 500). This is a very serious complication requiring replacement of the graft
Collection or leak of fluid (lymph) in the wound in the groin. It usually settles down by itself within weeks
The bowels may stop working for a few days and during this period you will be given all your fluids via a vein drip
Sexual incompetence (problem with erection or ejaculation) or retrograde ejaculation (the semen travels up into your bladder instead of coming out your penis, but it does come out later when you urinate). These may occur in men (about 10%), because occasionally it may be unavoidable during the operation to cut some small nerves running in front of the aneurusm
Each of these complications is rare, but overall it does mean that some patients may not survive their operation or the immediate post-operative period. For most patients this risk is up to 5% from an open aneurysm repair – in other words 95 in every 100 patients will make a full recovery from the operation. Your medical team will take all precautions to prevent any problem and try to correct it as early as possible.
If your risk of a major complication is higher than average, usually because you suffer from a serious medical problem, your vascular surgeon will discuss it with you. It is important to remember that your vascular surgeon will recommend the operation only if he/she believes that the risk of aneurysm ruprure is greater than the risk posed by the operation itself.
You should make changes in your lifestyle to help avert the chances to further damage your arteries. If you don’t, you are at increased risk for a heart attack, a stroke or problems with the circulation to your feet.
These changes include: