Thoracofemoral (Thoracic Aortofemoral) Bypass 

Updated: Apr 18, 2018
Author: Dale K Mueller, MD; Chief Editor: Vincent Lopez Rowe, MD 



The typical treatment for aortoiliac occlusive disease is an aortofemoral bypass graft, with patency rates of approximately 83-92% at 5 years.[1] Less invasive approaches have been studied.[2, 3] Thoracofemoral (thoracic aortofemoral) bypass is an alternative surgical bypass that is indicated for aortoiliac occlusive disease when traditional aortobifemoral bypass is contraindicated.[4] These conditions occur when performing a transabdominal or retroperitoneal abdominal procedure is difficult or impossible, as may be the case, for example, in the following circumstances:

  • Prior abdominal irradiation
  • Multiple abdominal interventions
  • Proximal aortic disease in close proximity or above the renal arteries
  • Failure or infection of previous abdominal aortic surgery

Some surgeons have advocated thoracofemoral bypass as a primary treatment for isolated aortoiliac occlusive disease, at least when the disease is in close proximity to the visceral or renal arteries.[1] Reported patency rates for thoracofemoral bypass rival the traditional aortofemoral bypass, at approximately 81% at 5 years.[1]


Indications for thoracofemoral bypass include the following:

  • Aortic graft failure [5]
  • Graft infection
  • Hostile abdomen [6]
  • Occlusive disease in close proximity to the visceral or renal arteries
  • Other intra-abdominal pathologies not amenable to standard aortofemoral revascularization

Although some advocate the use of thoracofemoral bypass as a primary procedure, most surgeons consider it a secondary procedure with the previous indications.[1]


Contraindications for a thoracofemoral bypass graft include the following:

  • Severe pulmonary insufficiency in a patient who is hence unable to tolerate a thoracotomy
  • Unapproachable thoracic aorta

A limiting factor is a prior thoracic operation that precludes or complicates the approach to the descending aorta.


Periprocedural Care


Equipment employed in performing a thoracofemoral (thoracic aortofemoral) bypass includes the following:

  • Operating table
  • Vascular tray
  • Thoracotomy tray
  • Double-lumen endotracheal tube and bronchial blocker/Univent
  • Ability to perform on-table angiography
  • Bean bag, pillows, and cushions to facilitate positioning

Patient Preparation


The thoracofemoral bypass requires general anesthesia, and most prefer left-lung isolation, though the procedure can be conducted with left-lung ventilation and appropriate retraction. Epidural anesthesia for postoperative pain control is also helpful. An arterial line and, often, a central line can be useful for the procedure as well.


The patient is placed in a posterolateral thoracotomy position with the left chest at approximately 45º off the horizontal and with the pelvis in a horizontal position. The left arm is kept anteriorly and supported.[1]



Bypass From Thoracic Aorta to Femoral Arteries

A left thoracotomy (except with sinus invertus) is performed through the seventh, eighth, or ninth rib space. The inferior pulmonary ligament is taken down and the left lower lobe retracted to expose the distal descending thoracic aorta. Standard exposure is done for the femoral vessels. Most surgeons tunnel the graft through a small incision in the diaphragm and pass the graft retroperitoneally to the left femoral vessel.[1]

A standard femoral-femoral tunnel for the right femoral artery is otherwise performed if necessary; alternatively, this portion of the graft can be placed preperitoneally, because of the potential for kinking if it is passed from the left groin to the right. Some authors recommend carrying the intercostal incision across the costal margin or even performing a thoracoabdominal incision.[1, 7]

Most tunnel the graft posteriorly to the kidney, though a technique has been described in which the graft is tunneled anterior to the left kidney. In the author's view, blind tunneling posterior to the left kidney appears to be the simplest approach.

The anastomosis to the descending thoracic aorta is performed in an end-to-side fashion, usually with a side-biting clamp (though proximal and distal clamping of the descending aorta may be necessary). The graft is angled in such a way as to be directed to the previously created tunnel, then clamped after the thoracic aortic clamps have been released. Standard femoral anastomoses are then constructed.[1]  A thoracoscopic method has also been described that involves stapling the thoracic anastomosis.[8]


Complications of thoracofemoral bypass include the following: