Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm - The Operation Explained
1. Why do I need the operation?
- The main artery (aorta) in your tummy (abdomen) has stretched and weakened (aneurysm). This operation is to repair the stretched section so that it will not burst (rupture).
2. Before your operation
- Before aneurysm surgery, there are a number of tests that need to be done. These are of two types: those to assess your general fitness and suitability for aneurysm surgery, and some immediate pre-operative tests.
- Tests of fitness and suitability are normally done before a decision to operate is made. They normally include: blood tests, ECG (electrical test of the heart), an ultrasound test of the heart, chest X-ray, a breathing test, and a CT scan (special X-ray scan) of the aneurysm itself.
- Immediate pre-operative tests include: blood tests, another ECG, and completing the paperwork. These immediate pre-operative tests are usually completed at a pre-admission visit to the hospital a few days before your operation. They may sometimes be done when you are admitted for the operation.
3. Coming into hospital
- Please bring with you all the medications that you are currently taking. You will be admitted to your bed by one of the nurses who will also complete your nursing record.
- You will be visited by the Surgeon who will be performing your operation, and also by the doctor who will give you the anaesthetic. Physiotherapists and Intensive Care staff may also visit, to give you information about your postoperative care. If you have any remaining questions about the operation please ask the doctors.
4. The Anaesthetic
- The first part of the operation involves giving you an anaesthetic so that you will be asleep during the operation. A tiny needle is placed in the back of your hand. The anaesthetic is injected through the needle and you will be asleep within a few seconds.
- Next, you may have a small tube placed in your back (epidural) to help with pain relief after surgery.
- A tube (catheter) will be inserted into your bladder to drain your urine.
- A drip is placed into a vein in your neck for blood pressure measurements and to give you some fluids during and following surgery.
- Sometimes, there will be a tube into your stomach (via your nose) to stop you feeling sick.
5. The Operation
- You will have a cut, either down or across your tummy and occasionally a smaller cut may be needed in one or both groins.
- The enlarged segment of aorta will be replaced by an artificial blood vessel made of Dacron. Sometimes this will be a simple tube, and sometimes, as in the illustration, a branching graft to each lower limb artery is used.
- The redundant aneurysm sac is closed over the graft at the end of the procedure to separate it from the overlying structures.
- The wounds are closed with either a stitch under the skin that dissolves or by clips that will need to be removed about 10 days after the surgery.
6. After the operation
- You will usually spend 1-2 days in the Intensive Care or High Dependency Unit after your operation so that we can monitor your progress closely.
- It is usually necessary for you to remain on a breathing machine for a short period after the operation but you will be taken off this as soon as possible.
- Following this sort of surgery the bowel stops working for a while and you will be given all the fluids you require in a drip until your bowel will cope with fluids by mouth.
- A blood transfusion may be required.
- The nurses and doctors will try and keep you free of pain by giving painkillers by injection, via the epidural tube in your back, or by a machine that you are able to control yourself by pressing a button.
- As the days pass and 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 8-10 days after the operation).
7. Going home
- If your stitches or clips are the type that need removing this is usually done whilst you are still in hospital.
- You will feel tired for many weeks after the operation but this will improve as time goes by.
- Regular exercise such as a short walk combined with rest is recommended for the first few weeks followed by a gradual return to normal activity.
- Driving: You will be able to drive when you are can perform an emergency stop safely. This will normally be 3-4 weeks after surgery, but if in doubt check with your own doctor.
- Bathing: Once your wound is dry you may bathe or shower as normal. This will normally be before you leave hospital.
- Work: If this applies to you, you should be able to return to work within 6-12 weeks of surgery. Your GP will advise you of this when you see him/her for your sick-note.
- Lifting: You should avoid heavy lifting or straining for 6 weeks after the operation.
- Medicines: You will usually be sent home on a small dose of aspirin if you were not already taking it. This makes the blood less sticky. If you are allergic to aspirin, or if it upsets your tummy, an alternative drug may be prescribed.
- Chest infections: These can occur following this type of surgery, particularly in smokers, and may require treatment with antibiotics and physiotherapy.
- Wound infection: Wounds sometimes become infected and this may need treatment with antibiotics. Bad infections are rare. Occasionally, the incision may need to be cleaned out under anaesthetic.
- Graft infection: Very rarely (about 1 in 500), the Dacron graft may become infected. This is a serious complication, and usually treatment involves removal of the graft.
- Fluid leak from wound: Occasionally the wound in your groin can fill with a fluid called lymph that may leak between the stitches. This usually settles down with time.
- Bowel problems: Occasionally the bowel is slow to start working again after the operation. This requires patience and fluids will be provided in a drip until your bowels get back to normal.
- Sexual activity (Impotence): This may occur in men due to nerves in your tummy being unavoidably cut during the operation. This occurs in about 10% of patients.
- Major Complications: As with any major operation there is a small risk of you having a medical complication such as a heart attack, stroke, kidney failure, chest problems, loss of circulation in the legs or bowel, or infection in the artificial artery. Each of these is rare, but overall it does mean that some patients may have a fatal complication from their operation. For most patients this risk is about 5% - in other words 95 in every 100 patients will make a full recovery from the operation. The doctors and nurses will try to prevent these complications and to deal with them rapidly if they occur.
- If your risk of a major complication is higher than this, usually because you already have a serious medical problem, then your surgeon will discuss this with you. It is important to remember that your surgeon will only recommend treatment for your aneurysm if he or she believes that the risk of the aneurysm bursting is much higher than the threat posed by the operation.
8. What can I do to help myself?
- If you are a smoker you should make a determined effort to stop completely. Continued smoking will cause further damage to your arteries and increases the risks of heart attacks, strokes, and problems with the circulation in your legs.
- General health measures such as reducing weight, a low fat diet and regular exercise are also important.
9. Further Questions
- If you have any further questions that you think of you can ask these when you are admitted to hospital. We recommend you make a list.