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What is a Saphenous Vein Graft?

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  • Written By: Jennifer Long
  • Edited By: Allegra J. Lingo
  • Last Modified Date: 03 November 2016
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A saphenous vein graft is a surgical procedure. During surgery, part of the saphenous vein is removed. This removed vein section is then used to repair other damaged arteries and veins.

The great saphenous vein (GSV) is a large vein that is located in the leg. It runs from the big toe up the side of the calf and thigh, where it meets the femoral artery. This vein is often chosen by surgeons for grafting because of its size.

Cardiovascular surgery utilizes a saphenous vein graft to repair damaged arteries that lead to the heart. It is a preferred procedure when multiple grafts are necessary. Triple and quadruple vein grafts require three and four grafts to complete the artery repair.

A graft taken from the saphenous vein is a detailed process. Getting a saphenous graft requires several steps before, during, and following the surgery. Before the procedure, doctors and nurses will provide details that are specific for the additional surgery being performed as well as the graft procedure. A general consultation will summarize the surgeries.

At the beginning of surgery, an anesthetist administers medications to induce sleep and numb the body. These medicines are usually added to an intravenous (IV) line or into a saline bag attached to an IV line. In some cases, the medicines are directly injected or hooked to a pump that is separate from the other IV lines. The patient will also be hooked up to an artificial breathing machine.

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Once unconscious, a surgeon will open the area that needs the graft and prepare it. When that section is ready, the surgeon will harvest the saphenous vein graft sections. An anti-clotting agent is administered to prevent blood clotting while the surgeon completes the procedure and closes up both incision points.

After a saphenous vein graft, hospital recovery is necessary. Especially in cases of heart surgery, a few days in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) is followed by several days in a non-intensive area. The amount of time spent in each area of the hospital depends on the type of surgery and individual recovery time. Generally, an ICU stay lasts 24 to 48 hours and then an additional three to five days in the hospitcal.

Once the patient leaves the hospital, further recovery from a saphenous vein graft is necessary. Before leaving the hospital, instructions will be given about wound care, watching for infections, and what to expect during the healing process. The vein graft area may swell and feel tight.

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