A carotid endarterectomy (say "kuh-RAW-tid en-dar-tuh-REK-tuh-mee") is surgery to remove fatty build-up (plaque) from one of the carotid arteries. Your doctor made a cut (incision) in your neck and carotid artery to take out the plaque.
You may have a sore throat for a few days. You can expect the incision to be sore for about a week. The area around it may also be swollen and bruised at first. The area in front of the incision may be numb. This usually gets better after several months.
Your doctor closed the incision in your neck with stitches. The stitches will be removed 7 to 10 days after surgery, or you may have stitches that dissolve on their own.
You may feel more tired than usual for several weeks after surgery. You can do light activities around the house. But don't do anything strenuous until your doctor says it is okay. This may be for at least 2 weeks.
You will have regular tests to check blood flow in your carotid arteries.
This care sheet gives you a general idea about how long it will take for you to recover. But each person recovers at a different pace. Follow the steps below to feel better as quickly as possible.
How can you care for yourself at home?
- Rest when you feel tired. Getting enough sleep will help you recover.
- Try to walk each day. Start by walking a little more than you did the day before. Bit by bit, increase the amount you walk. Walking boosts blood flow and helps prevent pneumonia and constipation.
- Avoid strenuous activities, such as bicycle riding, jogging, weight lifting, or aerobic exercise. Your doctor will tell you when it's okay to do strenuous activity.
- For at least 2 weeks, avoid lifting anything that would make you strain. This may include a child, heavy grocery bags and milk containers, a heavy briefcase or backpack, cat litter or dog food bags, or a vacuum cleaner.
- Ask your doctor when you can drive again.
- You may need to take 1 to 2 weeks off from work. It depends on the type of work you do and how you feel.
- Your doctor will tell you when you can have sex again.
- You can eat your normal diet. If your stomach is upset, try bland, low-fat foods like plain rice, broiled chicken, toast, and yogurt.
- Drink plenty of fluids (unless your doctor tells you not to).
- You may notice that your bowel movements are not regular right after your surgery. This is common. Try to avoid constipation and straining with bowel movements. You may want to take a fiber supplement every day. If you have not had a bowel movement after a couple of days, ask your doctor about taking a mild laxative.
- Eat a heart-healthy diet. If you have not been eating this way, talk to your doctor. You also may want to talk to a dietitian. A dietitian can help you plan meals and learn about healthy foods.
- Your doctor will tell you if and when you can restart your medicines. You will also get instructions about taking any new medicines.
- If you stopped taking aspirin or some other blood thinner, your doctor will tell you when to start taking it again.
- Be safe with medicines. Take your medicines exactly as prescribed. Call your doctor if you think you are having a problem with your medicine.
- If you take a blood thinner, such as aspirin, be sure you get instructions about how to take your medicine safely. Blood thinners can cause serious bleeding problems.
- If your doctor prescribed antibiotics, take them as directed. Do not stop taking them just because you feel better. You need to take the full course of antibiotics.
- If you have strips of tape over your incision, leave the tape on for a week or until it falls off.
- You may shower and take baths as usual. But do not soak the incision for the first 2 weeks, or until your doctor tells you it is okay. Pat the incision dry.
- Wash the area daily with water and pat it dry. Other cleaning products, such as hydrogen peroxide, can make the wound heal more slowly. You may cover the area with a gauze bandage if it weeps or rubs against clothing. Change the bandage every day.
- Keep the area clean and dry.
Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.
When should you call for help?
Call 911 anytime you think you may need emergency care. For example, call if:
- You passed out (lost consciousness).
- You have severe trouble breathing.
- You have a tight bulge in your neck on the side where the surgery was done.
- You have symptoms of a stroke. These may include:
- Sudden numbness, tingling, weakness, or loss of movement in your face, arm, or leg, especially on only one side of your body.
- Sudden vision changes.
- Sudden trouble speaking.
- Sudden confusion or trouble understanding simple statements.
- Sudden problems with walking or balance.
- A sudden, severe headache that is different from past headaches.
- You have symptoms of a heart attack. These may include:
- Chest pain or pressure, or a strange feeling in the chest.
- Shortness of breath.
- Nausea or vomiting.
- Pain, pressure, or a strange feeling in the back, neck, jaw, or upper belly, or in one or both shoulders or arms.
- Lightheadedness or sudden weakness.
- A fast or irregular heartbeat.
Call your doctor now or seek immediate medical care if:
- You have pain that does not get better after you take pain medicine.
- You have loose stitches, or your incision comes open.
- Bright red blood has soaked through the bandage over your incision.
- You have signs of infection, such as:
- Increased pain, swelling, warmth, or redness.
- Red streaks leading from the incision.
- Pus draining from the incision.
- A fever.
Watch closely for any changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor if you have any problems.
Where can you learn more?
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