Aneurysm surgery is a treatment for aortic aneurysms. A surgeon removes the damaged part of your aorta and replaces it with a synthetic fabric tube called a graft. The surgery is very effective when performed before aneurysm rupture. Recovery for most people includes five to 10 days in the hospital and four to six weeks at home.
Aneurysm surgery, also called traditional open surgery, is a treatment for aortic aneurysms. An aortic aneurysm damages your aorta and causes life-threatening complications. The main purpose of open surgery is to prevent an aneurysm rupture or dissection. It can also repair damage after such an event happens.
A surgeon removes the damaged part of your aorta and replaces it with a synthetic fabric tube. This tube is called a graft. It functions as a new lining for your artery so blood can safely pass through.
A thoracic or vascular surgeon performs this procedure in a hospital surgical suite. This procedure is considered major surgery. Your surgeon needs to make a large incision in your chest or belly to access the aneurysm. The aneurysm might be located in your chest (thoracic aortic aneurysm) or a bit further down in your belly (abdominal aortic aneurysm).
Aneurysm surgery is often necessary to prevent serious complications or death. Like any major surgery, it carries risks. But the benefits usually outweigh the risks. Your provider will discuss your options with you and determine if you need surgery.
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People who have a ruptured or dissected aortic aneurysm need this surgery. It’s an emergency surgery that can save your life. Other people might need this surgery if they have an aneurysm that’s at risk of rupturing but hasn’t yet. This risk increases if your aneurysm is getting bigger or causing symptoms.
If your aneurysm ruptures or dissects, you need surgery right away. Call 911 if you have the following symptoms:
If you have an aneurysm, it’s important to visit your healthcare provider for checkups. An aneurysm that hasn’t ruptured or dissected can still be dangerous. So, your provider will keep an eye on the aneurysm and decide how best to treat it. You may need aneurysm surgery if you have:
Your provider will talk with you about your condition and your treatment options. Your provider will check the aneurysm’s size, location and risk of rupturing. There’s a lot to consider, including your overall health and medical history. Your provider will tailor treatment to your individual needs.
For example, if you have Marfan syndrome, a smaller aneurysm will be more dangerous for you. So, you may need treatment sooner than someone who doesn’t have Marfan syndrome.
You might have other health problems that make open surgery too risky. If so, your provider may recommend endovascular aneurysm repair (EVAR). This is a less invasive aneurysm repair procedure.
Preparation for your surgery begins weeks in advance. Your provider will give you a physical exam and run some tests to make sure it’s safe to perform surgery. You’ll talk with your provider about:
Your provider will give you specific instructions for how to prepare for the day of your surgery. These may include:
It’s important to follow all your provider’s instructions. Ask if anything is unclear or you have any questions.
Your care team will make you comfortable before your aneurysm surgery begins. You’ll be given general anesthesia so you’re asleep during the surgery. Then, your surgery will include the following steps:
Aneurysm surgery usually takes three to four hours.
After your surgery is done, you’ll be moved to the intensive care unit (ICU). You’ll be closely watched for several days before being moved to a regular hospital room. Your total hospital stay will likely be three to 10 days.
While you’re in the hospital, you’ll receive care that includes:
You’ll slowly begin moving around and regaining your strength. But remember that you just had major surgery. Your body needs time to heal. Closely follow your provider’s instructions, and don’t push yourself too soon. It’s important to give yourself time to rest.
Be sure to arrange for someone to drive you home from the hospital. You won’t be able to drive until your provider gives you the OK.
Aneurysm surgery can save your life. It can prevent an aneurysm rupture or dissection. It can also be performed in an emergency to repair damage from an aneurysm rupture or dissection.
Open surgery is a good option for people who can’t have endovascular aneurysm repair (EVAR). For example, the stent graft used in EVAR doesn’t always fit the shape of a person’s aorta. So, that person would need open surgery.
Aneurysm surgery can save your life. But it’s important to be aware of possible risks and complications. They include:
Talk with your provider about all possible risks. And ask which ones are more likely based on your own health condition. Risks and complications change based on the individual.
Surgery is never risk-free. But your care team will do everything possible to make your surgery safe and successful.
Aneurysm surgery is very serious if performed after an aneurysm rupture. The chance of survival after surgery for a ruptured aortic aneurysm is 50% to 70%. The greatest threat comes from complications of the rupture, including kidney failure. But with no treatment at all, the rupture will certainly be deadly. So, surgery offers the best chance of survival after a rupture.
The chance of survival is much better when you have surgery before a rupture. In that case, the chance of surviving aneurysm surgery is 95% to 98%.
Open surgery is riskier for people with other serious health problems, including:
Older people also face a higher risk of complications. Your provider will discuss your individual risks with you.
Most people fully recover from aneurysm surgery, especially if the aneurysm didn’t rupture first.
You’ll need three to 10 days to recover in the hospital. Some people need more time. After leaving the hospital, you may need to stay at a rehabilitation facility. This helps you regain your strength and independence. Full recovery takes four to six weeks for most people. But some people may need two or three months to get back to normal.
Your healthcare team will give you specific instructions to follow as you recover. Restrictions may include:
You’ll have prescription pain medicine to take when you’re recovering at home. Write down what time you take each dose. And try to take the pills at the same time each day. This may help your medicine work most effectively.
Your incision is the area on your chest or belly that was cut open for surgery. Now it’s all closed up, but it’s still a wound. It needs special care while you recover. Your provider will offer guidance on how to care for it. You’ll likely need to change the dressing (bandages) at least once per day. Don't remove the dressing to take a shower unless your provider says it’s OK.
Sneezing or coughing might feel uncomfortable for a while. To ease any pain, hug a pillow against your incision when you sneeze or cough. This can also protect your incision.
As you recover, you may notice you’re not as hungry as usual. This is normal. It may take a few weeks for your appetite to return. Some people lose up to 20 pounds during recovery.
You may also feel tired for a few weeks. This is part of healing. Talk with your provider about how you’re feeling and any concerns you have.
Preparing for surgery can be nerve-wracking. Devote some of that nervous energy to making your home comfortable for your return. Ask family and friends to help you. Some tips include:
If you live alone, ask someone to stay with you or spend time with you each day. You may also want to arrange for someone to bring groceries or other supplies.
If you don’t have family or friends close by, ask your healthcare provider to recommend a caregiving service. It’s important to accept help from others as you heal. The more help you have now, the quicker you will recover and regain your independence.
Your surgery was a big investment in your health. But you have to protect that investment. Do whatever you can to support the health of your heart and your whole body, including:
As you recover from aneurysm surgery, pay attention to how you feel. Call your provider if you have any of these problems.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Aneurysm surgery is a life-saving procedure that can help your arteries get healthy. For some people, it’s an emergency surgery in response to a ruptured aneurysm. For others, it’s a preventive measure planned months in advance. But either way, it’s a major surgery that has its own risks. Talk with your provider about what treatment option is best for you. If you have an aneurysm or a history of aneurysms, go for regular checkups so your provider can keep an eye on things. It’s essential to treat an aneurysm before it grows too big or causes serious problems.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 04/25/2022.
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