Veins can sometimes be used to replace arteries that are diseased. The process of removing them is called harvesting.
Leg veins are frequently used for vein harvesting. For open chest procedures, like coronary artery bypass grafting (CABG), veins or other blood vessels in the chest are often used.
Reasons for Procedure
Diseased arteries with atherosclerosis have a buildup of plaque that can block the flow of blood. Coronary (heart) or carotid arteries to the brain are often repaired by making a bypass. Vein grafts are most often used to bypass these blocked arteries.
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Problems from the procedure are rare, but all procedures have some risk. Your doctor will review potential problems, like:
- Damage to nerves
- Infection at the vein harvesting site
Before your procedure, talk to your doctor about ways to manage factors that may increase your risk of complications such as:
What to Expect
Prior to Procedure
The preparation you will need will be determined by the primary procedure. In most cases, it will be a major cardiac or vascular surgery for which you will be hospitalized and evaluated thoroughly.
Talk to your doctor about your medications. You may be asked to stop taking some medications up to one week before the procedure.
You will not be able to eat or drink for 8 hours prior to the procedure.
You will be given general anesthesia. It will keep you asleep during the procedure.
Description of Procedure
A long cut in the skin will be made to expose the entire length of the vein. Every branch of the vein will be found and tied off. The vein will be removed. The skin will be closed with stitches or staples.
Two small incisions are made at either end of the vein. A special long, thin tool with a camera on the end (endoscope) is passed through one of the incisions and along the vein. The tool will separate the vein from its branches and surrounding tissue. The vein will then be removed through the second incision at the other end of the vein.
Immediately After the Harvesting
The primary surgery will take place. Your leg (or legs) will be wrapped tightly to prevent bleeding from the remaining veins.
How Long Will It Take?
Vein harvesting is usually done at the same time as the primary procedure. It does not add time to the total surgery.
How Much Will It Hurt?
Anesthesia will prevent pain during surgery. Pain and discomfort after the procedure can be managed with medications.
Average Hospital Stay
Your hospital stay will depend on your primary procedure. Vein excision will not extend your stay.
During your stay, the hospital staff will take steps to reduce your chance of infection such as:
- Washing their hands
- Wearing gloves or masks
- Keeping your incisions covered
There are also steps you can take to reduce your chances of infection such as:
- Washing your hands often and reminding visitors and healthcare providers to do the same
- Reminding your healthcare providers to wear gloves or masks
- Not allowing others to touch your incisions
Call Your Doctor
It is important to monitor your recovery. Alert your doctor to any problems. If any of the following occur, call your doctor:
- Signs of infection, including fever and chills
- Redness, swelling, increasing pain, excessive bleeding, or any discharge from the incision site
- Pain that you cannot control with the medications you have been given
- Any changes of color in your leg, or if your leg becomes cold, numb, or tingly
- Cough, shortness of breath, or chest pain
- Lightheadedness or weakness
- Calves that are red, swollen, or warm to the touch
If you think you have an emergency, call for emergency medical services right away.
American Heart Association
National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute
Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada
Bitondo JM, Daggett WM, Torchiana DF, et al. Endoscopic versus open saphenous vein harvest: a comparison of postoperative wound complications. Ann Thorac Surg. 2002;73(2):523-528.
Endoscopic vein harvesting. Mid-Atlantic Surgical Associates website. Available at: http://www.heartsurgeons.com/procedures2.html#pr2d. Accessed November 30, 2017.
6/2/2011 DynaMed Plus Systematic Literature Surveillancehttp://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T905141/Treatment-for-tobacco-use: Mills E, Eyawo O, Lockhart I, Kelly S, Wu P, Ebbert JO. Smoking cessation reduces postoperative complications: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Am J Med. 2011;124(2):144-154.
Last reviewed November 2018 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Michael J. Fucci, DO, FACC Last Updated: 12/20/2014