This information has been compiled by a Consultant Vascular Surgeon to provide helpful background knowledge for patients who will receive a vascular graft. It is intended to supplement information given by your own medical/surgical team and is not a replacement for such information.
Please consult your General Practitioner or Surgeon if there is anything you are unsure of.
We hope this information will help you understand more about your vascular system and your vascular graft. Hundreds of thousands of men and women like you, of all ages and from all walks of life, have vascular grafts and continue to lead full, enjoyable and productive lives.
A vascular graft is a synthetic tube that replaces or bypasses part of a blood vessel, most commonly an artery.
The successful development of vascular grafts has been likened to a modern miracle. The first grafts were developed in the 1960's. Since then, vascular grafts have become commonplace and millions of people have been successfully treated.
As you read through this text, you will learn how the vascular system works, the function of your graft and answers to many of your questions.
For any information not covered here, especially questions of a medical nature, please consult your General Practitioner or Surgeon.
What is the vascular system?
First, let's take a look at the vascular system and how it works.
All parts of the body require a supply of blood. Blood carries oxygen and nourishment and has many other important functions that allow your body to work properly.
Blood is distributed around the body by the vascular system which consists of the heart, arteries and veins.
The heart is a highly efficient pump, made of special muscle which pumps blood into the arteries. These are tubes that carry blood to all parts of the body. The arteries branch and become progressively smaller until they eventually become microscopic capillaries. It's easy for oxygen and nourishment to leave the blood in the capillaries and enter the tissues and organs. After blood has passed through the capillaries, it enters the veins that join together and become progressively larger as they carry blood back to the heart. The heart then pumps the blood through the lungs to pick up oxygen before pumping it again into the arteries, so starting the whole process again.
The drawing below shows how the heart, arteries, capillaries, veins and lungs work together to provide a highly efficient system that circulates blood around the body. Normally, your heart will beat more than 100,000 times every day (70 beats per minute), thrusting over 6,800 litres of blood on a total journey of approximately 12,000 miles through your vascular system's arteries and veins. This incredible organ completes about 2.6 billion cycles in an average lifetime. Your vascular system contains an average of 4.5 litres of blood that is regularly being renewed by new cells.
As you can see in the diagram above, the vascular system carries the blood in a closed system. When blood leaves the heart for the body, it contains a rich supply of oxygen that is removed by the tissues. When it returns to the heart, it has been virtually depleted of oxygen and has to be revitalised by passage through the lungs.