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Popliteal Artery Embolectomy

Last updated May 2, 2019

Approved by: Krish Tangella MD, MBA, FCAP

Blausen.com staff. "Blausen gallery 2014

Popliteal Artery Embolectomy is a procedure that involves removing a blood clot that obstructs blood from flowing to the leg and foot.


Background Information:

What are the other Names for the Procedure?

  • Popliteal Artery Thrombectomy

What is the Popliteal Artery Embolectomy surgical procedure?

Popliteal Artery Embolectomy is a procedure that involves removing a blood clot that obstructs blood from flowing to the leg and foot.

What part of the Body does the Procedure involve?

A Popliteal Artery Embolectomy procedure involves the femoral artery (blood vessels within the leg), the popliteal artery located behind the knee, and the heart, which is the primary source of blood.

Why is the Popliteal Artery Embolectomy surgical procedure Performed?

Popliteal Artery Embolectomy is performed to restore blood flow to the legs.

What are some Alternative Choices for the Procedure?

In case a thrombus or a blood clot is lodged in the popliteal artery, then a surgical removal of the clot is essential to prevent obstruction of blood flow to the lower leg.

What are the Recent Advances in the Procedure?

Recent advances have helped ensure better results and effectiveness of the method, even while improving the safety of the procedure.

What is the Cost of performing the Popliteal Artery Embolectomy surgical procedure?

The cost of the Popliteal Artery Embolectomy procedure depends on a variety of factors, such as the type of your health insurance, annual deductibles, co-pay requirements, out-of-network and in-network of your healthcare providers and healthcare facilities.

In many cases, an estimate may be provided before the procedure. The final amount depends upon the findings during the surgery/procedure and post-operative care that is necessary.

When do you need a Second Opinion, prior to the Procedure?

  • It is normal for a patient to feel uncomfortable and confused by the information regarding a Popliteal Artery Embolectomy procedure and on what needs to be done
  • If the patient needs further reassurance or a second opinion, a physician will almost always assist and also recommend another physician, if required
  • Also, if the procedure involves multiple surgeries or has many alternatives, the patient may take a second opinion to understand and choose the best one. They can also choose to approach another physician independently

What are some Helpful Resources?

Complete Guide to Symptoms, Illness & Surgery; Written by H Winter Griffith, M.D.; Revised and updated by Stephen Moore, M.D. and Kenneth Yoder, M.D.; The Berkley Publishing Group, 5th Edition, New York, 2006

Prior to Popliteal Artery Embolectomy surgical procedure:

How is the  Popliteal Artery Embolectomy surgical procedure Performed?

The Popliteal Artery Embolectomy procedure may be performed under general or spinal anesthesia.

  • An incision is made on the skin of the leg higher up compared to the site of obstruction. The surgeon reaches the blocked artery after dissecting through the tissue layers
  • An incision is made on the artery and through this opening (arteriotomy) a balloon-tipped catheter (a tube) is passed in to the artery and guided along, until after the site of blockage is reached
  • The surgeon inflates the balloon at the tip of the catheter and pulls it back. As the catheter is drawn back, the clot gets dislodged and is pulled out through the arteriotomy
  • The arteriotomy, tissue layers, and the skin are sutured

Where is the Procedure Performed?

A Popliteal Artery Embolectomy is usually performed in an out-patient surgery center facility or a hospital.

Who Performs the Procedure?

A general surgeon or a vascular surgeon performs the Popliteal Artery Embolectomy procedure.

How long will the Procedure take?

The procedure may take about an hour to perform.

What do you need to tell your Physician before the Procedure?

It is very important to provide the following information to your healthcare provider. This enables your healthcare provider in assessing the risks for the Popliteal Artery Embolectomy procedure and helps avoid unnecessary complications.

  • Provide a complete list of medications you are currently taking to your physician. This information is useful for a variety of reasons. For example, it can help your healthcare provider prevent complications due to a drug interaction
  • If you are allergic to any specific medication or food items
  • If you are taking blood thinners such as aspirin, warfarin, herbal supplements, or any other such medications
  • If you or your family members have a history of bleeding disorders, or if there is a tendency to bleed more than normal
  • If you have diabetes, high blood pressure, chest pains, or have previously suffered from a heart attack
  • If you have ever been diagnosed with blood clots in your leg (deep vein thrombosis) or lung (embolism of lung)
  • If you have a history of frequent bone fractures (this may affect bone-healing if bones are involved as part of your procedure)
  • A list of all previous surgical procedures you have undergone, for example: Removal of appendix, gallbladder, or any other part, of your body; surgical repair of any body part, such as hernia repair, perforation of bowel wall, etc.

What Preparations are needed, prior to the Procedure?

  • The physician may evaluate the individual’s medical history to gain a comprehensive knowledge of the overall health status of the patient including information related to the medications that are currently being taken
  • Some medications increase a person’s chances of bleeding and it may be recommended to discontinue them for a period of time before the procedure is performed
  • Blood tests may be performed to determine if there is a bleeding tendency or any other medical conditions that prevents the person from undergoing the procedure
  • Inform the physician if you are allergic to any local anesthetics, lidocaine, etc.
  • Avoid application of any cosmetics, deodorant, or topical medicines on the area prior to the procedure
  • It is advisable to quit smoking and the use of any nicotine based products for a while before the surgery
  • Consumption of alcoholic drinks must also be avoided for a period of time, as instructed
  • The patient must avoid eating or drinking at least 8 hours prior to the surgical procedure, depending on when the procedure is arranged
  • For individuals suffering from diabetes, it is important that the blood sugar stays within the normal range; if not, their diabetologist may have to control blood sugar by recommending insulin and/or a combination of oral medicines

What is the Consent Process before the Procedure?

A physician will request your consent for the Popliteal Artery Embolectomy procedure using an Informed Consent Form.

Consent for the Procedure: A “consent” is your approval to undergo a procedure. A consent form is signed after the risks and benefits of the procedure, and alternative treatment options, are discussed. This process is called informed consent.

You must sign the forms only after you are totally satisfied by the answers to your questions. In case of minors and individuals unable to personally give their consent, the individual’s legal guardian or next of kin, shall give their consent for the procedure.

What Tests are needed, before the Popliteal Artery Embolectomy surgical procedure?

Before a Popliteal Artery Embolectomy surgical procedure, the patient has to undergo certain tests such as:

  • Routine blood and urine analysis
  • Chest x-ray
  • Arteriogram
  • Electrocardiogram (ECG)

What are some Questions for your Physician?

Some of the basic questions that you might ask your physician are as follows:

  • What is a Popliteal Artery Embolectomy surgical procedure?
  • Why is this procedure necessary? How will it help?
  • How soon should I get it done? Is it an emergency?
  • Who are the medical personnel involved in this procedure?
  • Where is the procedure performed? 
  • What are the risks while performing the procedure?
  • What are the complications that might take place during recovery?
  • How long will it take to recover? When can I resume normal work?
  • How many such procedures have you (the physician) performed?
  • Are there any follow-up tests, periodic visits to the healthcare facility required after the procedure?
  • What are the costs involved?

During the Popliteal Artery Embolectomy surgical procedure:

What kind of Anesthesia is given, during the Procedure?

Spinal anesthesia by injection or general anesthesia by injection and inhalation is administered prior to the procedure.

How much Blood will you lose, during the Procedure?

There is not much blood loss during an uncomplicated Popliteal Artery Embolectomy procedure.

What are the possible Risks and Complications during the Popliteal Artery Embolectomy surgical procedure?

There are general factors that increase the risk of getting complications during surgery and they include:

  • Obesity: Generally, the greater the degree of obesity, the greater the surgical risk
  • Smoking: The longer the smoking history (in pack years smoked), the greater the surgical risk
  • Advancing age
  • Poorly controlled diabetes, as evidenced by a high hemoglobin A1c and a high fasting glucose
  • Poorly functioning kidney, as evidenced by increased BUN (blood urea nitrogen) and blood creatinine
  • Poorly functioning liver, as evidenced by increased blood liver function tests
  • Hypertension (increased blood pressure), especially if it is poorly controlled
  • Poor nutritional status (malnutrition with mineral and vitamin deficiencies)
  • Poor lung function, as evidenced by abnormal lung function tests
  • History of bleeding disorders
  • Longstanding illness, such as autoimmune disorders and chronic infections
  • Poor immune system due to a variety of causes

The possible risks or complications that may arise during the Popliteal Artery Embolectomy surgery are:

  • Excessive bleeding
  • Infection surrounding the surgical wound
  • Accidental injury to the nerves

What Post-Operative Care is needed at the Healthcare Facility after the Popliteal Artery Embolectomy surgical procedure?

At the healthcare facility, usually there is no requirement for any post-procedure care, unless any complications arise. 

After the Popliteal Artery Embolectomy surgical procedure:

What are the possible Risks and Complications after the Popliteal Artery Embolectomy surgical procedure?

The possible risks and complications that may arise after Popliteal Artery Embolectomy are:

  • Excessive bleeding from the surgical wound
  • Infection of the surgical wound
  • Heart abnormalities
  • Recurring blood clot

What is the Prognosis after the Surgery?

Generally, the prognosis after a Popliteal Artery Embolectomy procedure is good.

When do you need to call your Physician?

Do contact your physician if you notice any of the following symptoms:

  • Worsening pain and swelling around the surgical wound
  • Bleeding or fluid drainage from the surgical wound
  • Numbness, cold sensation, or noticeable discoloration within the foot
  • The occurrence of any symptom that causes uneasiness such as nausea, vomiting, abnormal swelling, or prolonged constipation
  • The preoperative symptoms are still experienced
  • Signs of an infection
  • Headache, muscle aches
  • Fever, feeling sick
  • Dizziness
  • Complications associated with prescription medications used in treatment

What Post-Operative Care is needed at Home after the Popliteal Artery Embolectomy surgical procedure?

At home, the following post-operative care is recommended, after a Popliteal Artery Embolectomy procedure:

  • Slowly resume regular/daily activities as early as possible, which aids in a faster recovery
  • Avoid all activities that are physically strenuous for about 3 weeks after the surgery
  • Use a heat pad or warm compress to relieve pain due to the incision
  • Resume showering and keep the wound clean and dry. Avoid taking baths until the surgical wound is completely healed. Gently wash the surgical wound with mild soap. Redress or re-bandage the surgical wound after showering
  • Elevate legs while resting to prevent the formation of blood clots and to reduce the possibility of swelling
  • Complete the course of prescribed medication as advised by your physician
  • Take blood-thinning medication to help prevent the recurrence of blood clots, as advised by your physician
  • Avoid taking nonprescription medications such as aspirin. However, individuals may take acetaminophen to relieve pain (per the physician’s advice)
  • Resume driving only after a week of being discharged from the hospital, or when advised by your physician

How long does it normally take to fully recover, from the Procedure?

Usually, it takes approximately 3 weeks to fully recover from this procedure.

Additional Information:

What happens to tissue (if any), taken out during the Procedure?

The tissue is taken for further examination and later disposed, as per the standard medical procedure.

When should you expect results from the pathologist regarding tissue taken out, during the Procedure?

  • The tissue removed is processed in the laboratory under a pathologist's supervision
  • The slide(s) are prepared once the tissue is processed, and this is examined by a pathologist and a pathology report issued
  • Depending on the complexity of the case, issue of the report may take anywhere between 72 hours to a week's time

Who will you receive a Bill from, after the Popliteal Artery Embolectomy surgical procedure?

It is important to note that the number of bills that the patient may receive depends on the arrangement the healthcare facility has with the physician and other healthcare providers.

Sometimes, the patient may get a single bill that includes the healthcare facility and the consultant physician charges. Sometimes, the patient might get multiple bills depending on the healthcare provider involved. For instance, the patient may get a bill from:

  • The outpatient facility, physician’s office or hospital
  • An anesthesiologist (if anesthesia was administered)
  • A pathologist (if the tissue was sent for analysis)
  • A general surgeon or a vascular surgeon

The patient is advised to inquire and confirm the type of billing, before the Popliteal Artery Embolectomy procedure is performed.

Thanks and Gratitude:

We sincerely acknowledge and thank Dr. Douglas J. Jones for reviewing the article. His valuable input and feedback has helped enrich the contents of this article.

Douglas J. Jones, MD FACS
Board Certified General Surgeon and Faculty Member
University of Illinois, College of Medicine at Urbana-Champaign
506 S. Mathews Ave., Urbana, IL 61801, USA

Reviewed and Approved by a member of the DoveMed Editorial Board
First uploaded: June 21, 2015
Last updated: May 2, 2019