Questions to ask your doctor

Facing surgery can be stressful. It is common for patients to forget some of their questions during the doctor’s office visit. You may also think of other questions after your appointment. Contact your doctor with concerns and questions before surgery and between appointments.

It is also a good idea to bring a list of questions to your preoperative appointments. Questions can include:

  • Why do I need a carotid endarterectomy? Are there any other options for treating my condition?
  • How long will the surgery take? When will I be able to go home?
  • What kind of restrictions will I have after the surgery? When can I return to work and other activities?
  • What kind of assistance will I need at home?
  • What medications will I need before and after the surgery?
  • How will you manage my pain?
  • When should I follow up with you?
  • How should I contact you? Ask for numbers to call during and after regular hours.

What can I expect after my carotid endarterectomy?

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

How long will it take to recover?

You will stay in the recovery room after the surgery until you are alert, breathing effectively, and your vital signs are stable. 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.

You may also have a drain in your neck to help drain excessive fluids. Your doctor usually removes the drain within a day.

You may be able to go home on the same day if your surgery is very early in the day and you are recovering well. In most cases, a hospital stay of one to two days is required.

Recovery after surgery is a gradual process. Recovery time varies depending on the specific surgery, type of anesthesia, your general health, age, and other factors. Your neck may hurt for several days after surgery. You might also have some discomfort when swallowing for a few days. Full recovery takes several weeks.

Will I feel pain?

Pain control is important for healing and a smooth recovery. The surgical area will be tender after your surgery. However, your doctor and care team will manage your pain 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 a carotid endarterectomy. Call 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
  • Change in vision
  • 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 specific 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 or weakness on one side of your body or face
  • Pain that is not controlled by your pain medication
  • Severe headache
  • 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 a carotid endarterectomy affect my everyday life?

A carotid endarterectomy may cure your condition so you can lead an active life. However, it will not prevent carotid artery disease from coming back. You can make changes to your everyday life that may help prevent or delay recurrence of carotid artery disease including:

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