Arterial anastomosis is the clinical term for connecting or reconnecting arteries to improve circulation. You might undergo anastomosis for several reasons, including recovery from an injury or to treat a blocked coronary artery.

Arterial anastomosis is one type of anastomosis. It can be done in different ways, depending on your needs. However, all types of anastomosis are surgical procedures that carry a certain amount of risk, including one of the blood vessels leaking during the operation.

Under the supervision of an experienced vascular surgeon, arterial anastomosis can be a lifesaving procedure that restores healthy circulation or prevents major complications stemming from diseased, injured, or blocked blood vessels.

Arteries are blood vessels that carry oxygenated blood from the heart to the organs, muscles, and other tissues throughout the body. Veins carry blood back to the heart, which pumps it through the lungs to pick up oxygen and then out to the body.

When circulation is hindered because of a diseased or blocked blood vessel, or one that has been damaged, a surgeon may remove the injured portion of the artery or vein, and attach the remaining unharmed part of that blood vessel to a nearby healthy blood vessel to keep circulation uninterrupted.

In some cases, a damaged blood vessel can be repaired without it having to be connected to a different vein or artery.

There are three main types of vascular anastomosis, two of which involve the arteries. They include:

  • Arterioarterial anastomosis: connects two arteries or reconnects parts of one damaged artery
  • Arteriovenous anastomosis: connects an artery to a vein and is often performed to help facilitate dialysis in individuals with kidney failure
  • Venovenous anastomosis: connects two veins or two parts of a damaged vein

Connecting arteries can be done in several ways, with each approach determined by the site of the procedure and the type of blood vessels involved. The four main types of vascular anastomosis include:

  • End-to-end: It involves the end of one artery being attached to the end of another to create one continuous blood vessel. End-to-end anastomosis is usually done by suturing the ends of each artery to each other. However, a 2020 preliminary study of magnetic devices used in end-to-end anastomosis performed on rabbits suggests that these devices may hold promise as safe and effective alternatives to sutures in the future.
  • End-to-side: This procedure is especially helpful when attaching blood vessels of different diameters, according to a 2022 study involving pigs. A separate small 2020 study suggests that when treating arteriovenous fistulas (abnormal connections between arteries and veins), an end-to-side approach is recommended over a side-to-side configuration. It’s most commonly used as a way to maintain circulation while using an inflow blood vessel to supply a bypass graft or dialysis procedure.
  • Side-to-end: This procedure is also used when there is a difference in the size of the blood vessels being adjoined.
  • Side-to-side: This procedure is helpful in creating a larger, single channel to allow for greater blood flow than could be accomplished with a single artery. This is sometimes used in organ transplants when robust circulation is required.

Both the side-to-end and side-to-side options are much less common than the other methods mentioned above.

Arterial anastomosis is a procedure performed for a variety of reasons. In some cases, it is done on an emergency basis to repair arteries injured in an accident or in other types of events in which blood vessels are damaged like a gunshot.

One of the most common examples of arterial anastomosis is coronary artery bypass grafting (CABG), sometimes referred to just as “bypass surgery” to treat a blocked artery supplying blood to the heart muscle.

With CABG, a heart surgeon takes a blood vessel from elsewhere in the body and attaches it to a coronary artery on both sides of the blocked portion of that artery. The newly grafted blood vessel serves as a bypass around the blockage and allows for the restoration of healthy blood flow within the heart.

CABG is sometimes done after a heart attack or to prevent a potentially fatal heart attack once severe blockage in one or more coronary arteries has been diagnosed.

Another potentially lifesaving example of arterial anastomosis is to repair an aneurysm, which is a bulge in an artery. The procedure involves the placement of an artificial tube within the artery at the site of the aneurysm to protect the blood vessel from bursting.

Arterial anastomosis is also one of several necessary procedures performed as part of an organ transplant. When a replacement kidney or other organ is placed in the recipient’s body, its arteries and veins must be attached to the blood vessels that route blood in an out of the organ.

Like all surgical procedures, arterial anastomosis carries some risks of side effects or complications. The most serious complication is an anastomotic leak, which can occur at the site where the two blood vessels are attached.

Symptoms and risks involved with an anastomotic leak include:

  • bleeding
  • blockage in other blood vessels
  • infection, possibly leading to blood infection (sepsis)
  • injury to the vessels involved or nearby blood vessels
  • scarring

Arterial anastomosis is a procedure that helps restore healthy circulation when blood vessels have been damaged. It also helps prevent circulatory problems in the presence of an aneurysm or narrowed artery. It involves the attachment of two blood vessels or the repair of a single blood vessel that has been injured.

Anastomosis procedures are currently done via open surgery with general anesthesia. If your doctor suggests that you have arterial anastomosis, ask about any possible risks and when you should stop taking medications, especially blood thinners.