Veins are sometimes used to replace arteries that are diseased. Removing them is called harvesting.
Leg veins are often 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
Vein grafts are most often used to channel blood flow around blocked arteries.
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Problems are rare, but all procedures have some risk. The doctor will go over some problems that could happen, such as:
- Excess bleeding
- Problems from anesthesia
- Blood clots
- Injury to nearby structures
Things that may raise the risk of problems are:
What to Expect
Prior to Procedure
The surgical team may meet with you to talk about:
- Anesthesia options
- Any allergies you may have
- Current medicines, herbs, and supplements that you take and whether you need to stop taking them before surgery
- Fasting before surgery, such as avoiding food or drink after midnight the night before
- Whether you need a ride to and from surgery
The doctor will give general anesthesia. You will be asleep.
Description of Procedure
The surgery will be done one of two ways:
A long incision will be made in the skin. It will expose the whole length of vein. Every branch of the vein will be tied off. The vein will be removed. The skin will be closed with stitches or staples. A bandage will be placed over the site.
Two small incisions will be made at either end of the vein. A long, thin tool (endoscope) will be passed through one of the incisions. It has a camera that helps the doctor see the area. The tool will separate the vein from its branches and surrounding tissue. The vein will then be removed through the second incision. The incisions will be closed with stitches. A bandage will be placed over the site.
How Long Will It Take?
Vein harvesting is usually done at the same time as the main procedure. It does not add extra time.
Will It Hurt?
There may be some pain and discomfort after the procedure. Medicine and home care help.
Average Hospital Stay
The hospital stay depends on the main procedure. Vein excision will not add time to the stay.
During your stay, the hospital staff will take steps to lower your risk of infection, such as:
- Washing their hands
- Wearing gloves or masks
- Keeping your incisions covered
There are also steps you can take to lower your risk of infection such as:
- Washing your hands often and reminding visitors and staff to do the same
- Reminding staff to wear gloves or masks
- Not letting others touch your incisions
Call Your Doctor
Call your doctor if you are not getting better or you have:
- Signs of infection, such as fever and chills
- Redness, swelling, excess bleeding, or any discharge from the incision
- Pain that you cannot control with the medicines
- Changes in the color of your leg—or your leg feels cold, numb, or tingly
- Problems breathing 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 medical help right away.
American Heart Association
National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute
Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada
Coronary artery bypass graft (CABG) surgery. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/procedure/coronary-artery-bypass-graft-cabg-surgery. Accessed July 20, 2021.
Coronary artery bypass grafting. Mid-Atlantic Surgical Associates website. Available at: http://www.heartsurgeons.com/procedures2.html#pr2d. Accessed July 20, 2021.
Zhang SZ, Wang GX, et al. The clinical application of microincision vein harvesting of the great saphenous vein in coronary artery bypass grafting. BMC Cardiovasc Disord. 2020;20(1):297.
Last reviewed July 2021 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Michael J. Fucci, DO, FACC Last Updated: 7/21/2021