A retrospective audit of long-term lower limb complications following leg vein harvesting for coronary artery bypass grafting

Eur J Cardiothorac Surg. 2003 Jun;23(6):950-5. doi: 10.1016/s1010-7940(03)00116-7.


Objective: To evaluate the prevalence of leg complications following leg-vein harvest for coronary artery bypass grafting.

Method: A questionnaire was sent to patients who had coronary artery bypass surgery between January 1993 and December 1998. Questions addressed pain, numbness, infection, swelling and general healing. The relationship between the risk factors of diabetes, peripheral vascular disease, previous fractures/injuries to legs, previous deep vein clots and arthritis affecting the legs with post operative symptoms of pain, numbness, swelling and general healing was explored with multivariate analysis.

Results: Of 700 questionnaires sent out 497 were returned, of which 422 (60%) were suitable for analysis. Numbness or tingling related to the wound was reported by 256 (61%), of whom 94 (37%) improved within 3 months. However, 105 (41%) had persistent numbness beyond 2 years. Pain in the wound was reported by 193 (46%), of whom 149 (77%) reported that this had improved by 3 months and only 19 (10%) had pain persisting beyond 2 years. A leg wound infection was reported by 126 (32%) patients, with 82 (65%) of these receiving antibiotics. A total of 336 (87% of 387 responses) described their wound as completely healed at 3 months. Unilateral leg swelling was reported by 175 (41%) with 98 of these (56% of those with swelling) improving by 3 months and 41 (23%) with swelling persisting beyond 2 years. There was no relation of wound problems to examined risk factors diabetes (P-values for numbness 0.31, wound healing 0.15, swelling 0.21, pain 0.22) and peripheral vascular disease (P-values for numbness 0.8, wound healing 0.21, swelling 0.18, pain 0.09). There was insufficient data to comment on the influence of fractures/injuries to legs, previous deep vein clots and arthritis affecting the legs.

Conclusions: Wound complications are common following leg vein harvest. Prevalence of infection was higher than has previously been reported. Few people suffer long-term pain from saphenous nerve damage although paraesthesia and swelling were common long-term complications. We did not identify either diabetes or peripheral vascular disease as a risk factor for pain, numbness, swelling or problems with general healing. There is a need for a large multicentre prospective study.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Coronary Artery Bypass*
  • Coronary Disease / surgery
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Leg / blood supply
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Multivariate Analysis
  • Prevalence
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Risk Factors
  • Saphenous Vein / surgery*
  • Surgical Wound Infection
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Tissue and Organ Harvesting / adverse effects*
  • Wound Healing