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The aorta is the largest artery in the body. It begins at the heart and runs through the chest and abdomen. Sometimes the walls of the aorta weaken and bulge in one area. An aortic repair is a surgery to create a support for the weakened area.
What to Expect
Prior to Procedure
Your doctor will likely do some or all of the following:
- Physical exam
- Blood tests
- X-rays —a test that uses radiation to take pictures of structures inside the body
- Ultrasound —a test that uses sound waves to find the aneurysm
- CT scan —a type of x-ray that uses a computer to make pictures of the inside of the body
- MRI scan —a test that uses magnetic waves to make pictures of the inside of the body
- Cardiac catheterization —the insertion of a tube-like instrument into the heart through a vein or artery (usually in the arm or leg) to detect problems with the heart and its blood supply
- Electrocardiogram —a test that records the heart's activity by measuring electrical currents through the heart muscle
Talk to your doctor about your medicines. You may be asked to stop taking some medicines up to one week before the procedure, like:
- Aspirin or other anti-inflammatory drugs
- Blood thinners, such as clopidogrel (Plavix) or warfarin (Coumadin)
Leading up to your procedure:
- The night before, eat a light meal. Do not eat or drink anything after midnight.
- You may be given laxatives and/or an enema to clean out your intestines.
- You may be asked to shower the morning of your procedure. You may be given special antibacterial soap to use.
- Arrange for help at home after returning from the hospital.
- Arrange for a ride to and from the procedure.
General anesthesia will be used. You will be asleep.
Description of Procedure
Depending on the location of the aneurysm, blood flow may need to be passed to a heart-lung machine. The machine will temporarily do the jobs of the heart and lungs.
An incision will be made over the area of the aneurysm. This may be in the abdomen or chest. The aorta will be clamped off above and below the aneurysm. The doctor will open the aneurysm and clean out any debris. The graft will be sewn into place to reconnect the two ends of the aorta. The tissue of the aneurysm will then be wrapped around the outside of the graft.
When the graft is properly in place, the clamps will be released. This will allow blood flow to resume through the aorta. The incision will be closed, using either stitches or staples. The area will be covered with a sterile dressing.
Some aneurysms can be repaired without the need for a large abdominal incision (percutaneously). Instead, punctures are made in the arteries in the groin. Not all patients are suited for this procedure. Your doctor will discuss your options with you.
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Immediately After Procedure
You will be brought to a recovery room after surgery. You will be monitored there for any negative effects from the surgery or anesthesia.
How Long Will It Take?
One to a few hours
How Much Will It Hurt?
Anesthesia prevents pain during surgery. The incision will cause some pain after the surgery. Talk to your doctor about medicines to help you manage the pain.
Average Hospital Stay
The usual length of stay is 4-7 days. Your doctor may choose to keep you longer if complications arise.
At the Hospital
- You will need to stay in the intensive care unit for the first day or so after surgery. You will then be moved to a regular hospital room.
- For the first day or two, you will be hooked up to monitors to track your heart rate, breathing, blood pressure, and blood oxygen levels. Your doctor may also order blood tests, chest x-rays, EKG, and an ultrasound of the repaired area of the aorta.
- You may have some tubes in place, which may include the following:
- Urinary catheter—monitors urine output
- Arterial catheter—monitors blood pressure
- Central venous catheter—monitors pressure in the heart
- Epidural catheter—provides pain medicine
- Nasogastric tube—inserted through the nose and into the stomach to remove secretions and provide nutrition until your intestines regain normal function
- You may be asked to use an incentive spirometer, to breathe deeply, and to cough frequently. This will help improve lung function after general anesthesia.
- You may be given special compression stockings to wear after surgery. They may help decrease the possibility of blood clots forming in your legs.
When you return home, do the following to help ensure a smooth recovery:
- Follow any discharge instructions to care for the wound.
- Gradually return to your normal activities.
- To help prevent further problems, you and your doctor will need to work to increase your overall health. Atherosclerosis and high blood pressure should be managed carefully. This can be done with medicines and a healthy lifestyle. If you are a smoker, you should talk to your doctor about quitting.
Recovery takes about six weeks. If you had symptoms from your aneurysm before the surgery, you may notice some improvements in your health. You may find you have more strength and less swelling in your legs. You may also have lower blood pressure, improved energy, and absence of pain from the aneurysm.
American Heart Association
The Society of Thoracic Surgeons
Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada
University of Ottawa Heart Institute
American Heart Association. Available at:
Conn HF, Rakel RE.
Conn's Current Therapy 2000. 52nd ed. Philadelphia, PA: WB Saunders Co; 1999.
Sidebotham D, McKee A, Gillham M, Levy J.
Cardiothoracic Critical Care. 2007.