What can I expect after my carotid artery surgery?

Knowing what to expect can help make your road to recovery after carotid artery surgery as smooth as possible. 

How long will it take to recover?

You will stay in the recovery room until you are alert, breathing effectively, and your vital signs are stable. You may have a drain in your neck to drain excessive fluids after a carotid endarterectomy. Your doctor usually removes the drains within a day. You may have a sore throat if a tube was placed in your windpipe during surgery. This is usually temporary, but tell your care team if you are uncomfortable.

A hospital stay of one to two days is usually needed. Some patients go home on the same day if surgery is early in the day and recovery is progressing well. 

Recovery after surgery is a gradual process. Recovery time varies depending on the procedure, type of anesthesia, your general health, age, and other factors. You will need to avoid strenuous activity and heavy lifting. Tell your doctor about all your activities and follow all instructions for returning to them. Full recovery takes a few days to several weeks.

Will I feel pain?

Pain control is important to healing and a smooth recovery. There will be discomfort after your surgery. It is unlikely that you will feel severe pain after carotid angioplasty. It is common to experience mild tenderness, bruising, and swelling at the catheter incision site. 

Your neck may hurt for several days after a carotid endarterectomy. You might also have discomfort when swallowing for a few days. Your doctor will treat your pain or discomfort so you are comfortable and can get the rest you need. Call your doctor if your pain gets worse or changes in any way because it may be a sign of a complication.

When should I call my doctor?

It is important to keep your follow-up appointments after carotid artery surgery. Contact your doctor for questions and concerns between appointments. Call your doctor right away or seek immediate medical care if you have:

  • Bleeding
  • Breathing problems, such as shortness of breath, difficulty breathing, labored breathing, or wheezing
  • Change in alertness, such as passing out, dizziness, unresponsiveness, or confusion
  • Chest pain, chest tightness, chest pressure, or palpitations
  • Fever. A low-grade fever (lower than 101 degrees Fahrenheit) is common for a couple of days after surgery and not necessarily a sign of a surgical infection. However, you should follow your doctor's instructions about when to call for a fever.
  • Inability to urinate or have a bowel movement
  • Leg pain, redness or swelling, especially in the calf, which may indicate a blood clot
  • Numbness, color change, or a feeling of coolness in the arm or leg that was used to insert the catheter
  • Numbness or weakness on one side of your body or face, or severe headache
  • Pain that is not controlled by your pain medication
  • Sudden confusion, problems with speaking or memory, vision problems, dizziness, trouble walking, or loss of balance
  • Swelling in your neck
  • Unexpected drainage, pus, redness or swelling of your incision

How might carotid artery surgery affect my everyday life?

Carotid artery surgery may cure your condition so you can lead an active, normal life. It will not prevent carotid artery disease from coming back. You can make changes in everyday life that may help prevent or delay carotid artery disease, such as:

  • Eating a heart-healthy diet
  • Getting regular exercise
  • Maintaining a healthy weight
  • Practicing stress management techniques
  • Quitting smoking
  • Taking blood thinning medications, such as aspirin or clopidogrel (Plavix), as directed by your doctor
  • Treating other related conditions, including high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes