Affecting roughly 6.5 million Americans, peripheral artery disease (PAD) happens when the arteries in your legs (or less commonly, your arms or organs) are blocked by sticky deposits of cholesterol that block normal blood flow to your extremities. In its early stages, PAD can often be treated conservatively, with medication, lifestyle changes, or minimally invasive treatments.
But for people with severe or advanced PAD, conservative treatments probably aren’t going to be enough. In these instances, surgery typically is the better choice for restoring blood flow, relieving painful symptoms, reducing the risk of ulcers and infections, and preventing serious complications, including limb amputation.
At Middle Georgia Vascular Surgery Center & Vein Solutions, Dr. Allison Burkett often recommends lower extremity bypass surgery for patients suffering from severe PAD. Here’s a quick overview of the procedure, along with a review of what to expect during your recovery and beyond.
Every part of your body needs regular blood flow to deliver oxygen and other nutrients and cart away waste. Not surprisingly, disruptions in circulation can have serious consequences.
In PAD, impaired circulation causes symptoms like:
Over time, reduced circulation increases your risks of deep sores called ulcers, along with serious infections and, potentially, amputations.
The goal of lower extremity bypass surgery is similar to the goal of heart (coronary) bypass surgery: to establish a new circulatory pathway that “bypasses” a clogged or damaged artery. Bypass surgery is usually considered when less invasive options, like angioplasty and stenting, would be ineffective in restoring blood flow.
During bypass surgery, Dr. Burkett uses an arterial graft, which is a “substitute” vessel harvested from another part of your body — often, a large leg vein. The graft is sutured in place above and below the blocked part of your artery, allowing blood to flow around the blocked artery and restoring normal blood flow. The ends of the blocked artery are clamped shut.
Lower extremity bypass surgery uses general anesthesia to keep you comfortable throughout your procedure. Afterward, you’ll be taken to a recovery area for observation before being transferred to a “regular” hospital room or, less commonly, the ICU for continued monitoring.
Most people are hospitalized for a few days after their procedure to allow time for the graft and incisions to heal. During that time, you’ll need to rest your leg, ideally keeping it elevated.
Your pulse will be regularly monitored after surgery to make sure the graft is working. Dr. Burkett will let you know when it’s OK to get up and move around, and she’ll provide you with detailed instructions to guide you through your recovery and to care for the large incision sites.
Regular follow-up visits in the weeks and months after your surgery ensure your graft is functioning normally, while also keeping track of any remaining symptoms. Lower extremity bypass surgery comes with risks, like any surgical procedure, and attending all your follow-up visits is essential for making a complete recovery.
All too often, people ignore leg pain and other PAD symptoms, attributing them to muscle strain or being “just part of getting older.” But leg pain is never normal — it’s a sign of an underlying problem. Being evaluated early helps you get the care you need to avoid serious complications.
To learn more about bypass surgery and the other methods Dr. Burkett uses to treat peripheral artery disease in patients at Middle Georgia Vascular Surgery Center, call (478) 238-5513 or book an appointment online at our practice in Warner Robins, Georgia.