You had carotid artery surgery to restore proper blood flow to your brain. Your surgeon made an incision (cut) in your neck over your carotid artery. A tube was put in place for blood to flow around the blocked area during your surgery. Your surgeon opened your carotid artery and carefully removed plaque from inside it. The surgeon may have placed a stent (a tiny wire mesh tube) in this area to help keep the artery open. Your artery was closed with stitches after the plaque was removed. The skin incision was closed with surgical tape.
During your surgery, your heart and brain activity were monitored closely.
What to Expect at Home
You should be able to do most of your normal activities within 3 to 4 weeks. You may have a slight neck ache for about 2 weeks.
You may start doing everyday activities as soon as you feel up to it. You may need help with meals, taking care of the house, and shopping at first.
DO NOT drive until your incision is healed, and you can turn your head without discomfort.
You may have some numbness along your jaw and near your earlobe. This is from the incision. Most of the time, this goes away in 6 to 12 months.
You may shower when you get home. It is ok if the surgical tape on your incision gets wet. DO NOT soak, scrub, or have shower water beat directly on the tape. The tape will curl up and fall off on its own after about a week.
Look carefully at your incision every day for any changes. DO NOT put lotion, cream, or herbal remedies on it without asking your health care provider first if it is ok.
Until the incision heals, DO NOT wear turtlenecks or other clothes around your neck that rub against the incision.
Having carotid artery surgery does not cure the cause of the blockage in your arteries. Your arteries may become narrow again. To prevent this:
Eat healthy foods, exercise (if your provider advises you to), stop smoking (if you smoke), and reduce your stress level.
If you are taking medicines for high blood pressure or diabetes, take them the way you have been told to take them.
You may be instructed to take aspirin and/or a medicine called clopidogrel (Plavix), or another medicine when you go home. These medicines keep your blood from forming clots in your arteries and in the stent. DO NOT stop taking them without talking with your provider first.
When to Call the Doctor
Call your health care provider if:
You have a headache, become confused, or have numbness or weakness in any part of your body.
You have problems with your eyesight, you cannot talk normally, or you have trouble understanding what other people are saying.
You cannot move your tongue to the side of your mouth.
You have trouble swallowing.
You have chest pain, dizziness, or shortness of breath that does not go away with rest.
You are coughing up blood or yellow or green mucus.
You have chills or a fever over 101°F (38.3°C) or a fever that does not go away after you take acetaminophen (Tylenol).
Your incision becomes red or painful, or yellow or green discharge is draining from it.
Your legs are swelling.
Brott TG, Halperin JL, Abbara S, Bacharach JM, et al 2011 ASA/ACCF/AHA/AANN/AANS/ACR/ASNR/CNS/SAIP/SCAI/SIR/SNIS/SVM/SVS guideline on the management of patients with extracranial carotid and vertebral artery disease: executive summary: a report of the American College of Cardiology Foundation/American Heart Association Task Force on Practice Guidelines, and the American Stroke Association, American Association of Neuroscience Nurses, American Association of Neurological Surgeons, American College of Radiology, American Society of Neuroradiology, Congress of Neurological Surgeons, Society of Atherosclerosis Imaging and Prevention, Society for Cardiovascular Angiography and Interventions, Society of Interventional Radiology, Society of NeuroInterventional Surgery, Society for Vascular Medicine, and Society for Vascular Surgery. J Am Coll Cardiol. 2011 Feb 22;57(8):1002-44. PMID: 21288680 www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21288680.
Kinlay S, Bhatt DL. Treatment of noncoronary obstructive vascular disease. In: Mann DL, Zipes DP, Libby P, Bonow RO, Braunwald E, eds. Braunwald's Heart Disease: A Textbook of Cardiovascular Medicine. 10th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2015:chap 60.
Michael A. Chen, MD, PhD, Associate Professor of Medicine, Division of Cardiology, Harborview Medical Center, University of Washington Medical School, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.