Recovery After Coronary Angioplasty: What to Expect

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Older female patient in wheelchair

Coronary angioplasty is a catheter-based procedure. This means the doctor will insert a catheter through a blood vessel in either your groin or your arm. While it is not major surgery, it does involve some recovery time. Both the site of the catheter incision and the reason for angioplasty can play a role in your recovery. Here is a look at what you can expect for coronary angioplasty recovery, including how long until you can get back to work.

Hospital Stay

You will spend some time in a recovery area right after angioplasty. For groin incisions, you will need to keep your leg straight for six hours after the doctor removes the catheter. This helps prevent bleeding problems. You will be able to get out of bed and walk if everything goes smoothly with the wound.

The length of your hospital stay will depend on the reason for your angioplasty. If you have a scheduled procedure to relieve symptoms of clogged arteries, you will likely stay overnight. However, emergency angioplasty for a heart attack is a different story. After a heart attack, you will spend a few days in the hospital before returning home.

Wound Care

Your care team will give you specific instructions to care for your wound at home. In general, you can shower and wash your incision. But, be gentle and do not rub it. It will probably be sore and you do not want to disrupt its healing. Afterwards, pat it dry and cover it with a bandage. It’s important to keep the wound clean. You also need to avoid soaking it in a bath or other water until it is fully healed.

It’s normal for the area around your incision to look bruised or discolored. The incision itself may be pinkish. It may also look and feel swollen. You may even be able to feel a lump. Warning signs of a problem include redness, warmth, pus, fever, and increasing pain or swelling.

Other concerning symptoms include color changes, numbness, or changes in temperature, such as feeling cool or hot to the touch, in the arm or leg. Let your doctor know right away about any of these. You should also contact your doctor if your incision starts to bleed and will not stop with pressure.

Fluids

In the 24 hours after angioplasty, you need to drink extra fluids. In general, this means 8 to 10 glasses of water. The fluids will help flush out the contrast dye your doctor used during the procedure.

Rest and Activity

You will probably feel tired when you get home, so rest and relaxation should sound good. How long you need to rest will depend on why you had angioplasty and where your doctor inserted the catheter. In general, the day you get home should be mostly rest with a few walks around your house. For groin incisions, you will need to limit the number of times you use the stairs for the first couple of days.

For scheduled angioplasty, you will need to take it easy for a few days. In some cases, doctors recommend a week of recovery. If you are recovering from a heart attack, you will need a longer amount of rest and recovery.

Most people can resume driving, do normal daily activities, and return to work in 2 to 3 days. If your work is physical, you probably need an entire week off before returning. It can take a week or longer to return to strenuous activities, including sports, vigorous exercise, and sex. You should avoid lifting, pushing or pulling anything heavy during your recovery week. For arm incisions, you also need to avoid twisting the arm.

You will get specific instructions about activity from your care team. Call your doctor if you have any questions about resuming activity. Also, contact your doctor if you start to feel chest pain, shortness of breath, or weakness during activity.

Medications

Your medications may change after coronary angioplasty. Most people will be on antiplatelet drugs, commonly called blood thinners. In fact, you will probably be on two—aspirin plus another drug, such as clopidogrel (Plavix) or ticagrelor (Brilinta). Aspirin with blood thinners is okay to take in this case. You will likely take aspirin and another blood thinner together for up to a year. Then, you will probably continue aspirin indefinitely.

Antiplatelet drugs work by preventing platelets from sticking together to make a clot. This doesn’t actually thin your blood. Instead, these drugs make it more difficult for your body to form a blood clot. After angioplasty, the goal is to prevent clots from forming inside your arteries or stent and possibly causing a heart attack.

Your doctor may also start other heart medicines to help keep your arteries open. And, if you weren’t on a cholesterol-lowering medicine before, your doctor may prescribe one now.

Follow-Up

You will have a follow-up appointment with your angioplasty doctor after you have recovered. You may also need follow-up testing, such as a stress test. These appointments will help guide your future care.

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2019 Mar 29
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