Your doctor has told you that you have a condition called peripheral artery disease (PAD). She or he also has recommended bypass surgery to improve blood flow and ease your pain.
What now? First, ask your doctor what bypass will mean for you. Although everyone's PAD is a bit different, and their surgery may differ as well, the term bypass means the same. It indicates that instead of cleaning out clogged arteries, blockages are avoided by creating a new channel, or channels, so blood can flow more freely. This surgery isn't a cure—plaques may continue to form—but it can be a tremendous improvement.
With a bypass, you'll have a new bridge between arteries. The bridge is made of either part of your own veins or a fabric tube designed especially for this purpose. The blockage is still there, but now your surgeon has created a detour for your blood.
Whether you get a bypass made of synthetic fabric or your own tissue depends on a vascular surgeon's assessment of your condition, plus the availability of healthy veins to do the job. The best bypasses are made of veins from your own body, if possible, and the vein most often chosen is the longest—called the great saphenous vein. It runs from your foot to your upper thigh.
When surgery is completed, your bypass usually will function well for at least ten years. But your job isn't over. To make bypass surgery for PAD really count, you have to help things along by taking good care of your new arteries. That will be a lifetime task.
The Baylor College of Medicine at the Texas Medical Center in Houston recommends that people with bypass grafts alter their lifestyles to help insure the long-term success of the procedure. That means:
Smart eating by focusing on a heart-healthy diet
Exercising for at least 20 minutes, five days a week