Recovering from a coronary angioplasty and stent insertion
You will normally be able to leave hospital the same day, or the following day after a planned (elective) coronary angioplasty. Arrange for a friend or family member to take you home.
Before you leave hospital, you should be told about any medication you need to take (see below). You may also be given advice on improving your diet and lifestyle, as well as wound care and hygiene advice during your recovery. You will usually be given (or sent later) a date for a follow-up appointment to check on your progress.
If the small tube (sheath) inserted into one of your arteries in your groin at the start of the procedure is left in place, this will usually be removed after a few hours or during the next morning. While it's in place, you will need to remain in bed with your legs kept straight it until it is removed.
You may have a bruise under the skin where the catheter was inserted. This is not serious, but it may be sore for a few days. Occasionally, the wound can become infected. Keep an eye on it to check that it's healing properly.
Your chest may also feel tender after the procedure, but this is normal and will usually pass in a few days. If necessary, you can take paracetamol to relieve any pain.
After having a coronary angioplasty, the team caring for you in hospital will usually be able to advise you about how long it will take to recover and if there are any activities you need to avoid in the meantime.
In most cases, you will be advised to avoid heavy lifting and strenuous activities for about a week, or until the wound has healed.
You should not drive a car for a week after having a coronary angioplasty.
If you drive a heavy vehicle for a living, such as a lorry or a bus, you must inform the DVLA that you have had a coronary angioplasty. They will arrange further testing before you can return to work.
You should be able to drive again as long as you meet the requirements of an exercise/function test and you do not have another disqualifying health condition.
GOV.UK has more information on coronary angioplasty and driving.
If you have had a planned (non-emergency) coronary angioplasty, you should be able to return to work after a week.
However, if you have had an emergency angioplasty following a heart attack, it may be several weeks or months before you recover fully and are able to return to work.
If your sex life was previously affected by angina, you may be able to have a more active sex life as soon as you feel ready after a coronary angioplasty.
If you have any concerns, speak to your GP. According to experts, having sex is the equivalent of climbing a couple of flights of stairs in terms of the strain that it puts on your heart.
Medication and further treatment
Most people need to take blood-thinning medications for up to one year after having an angioplasty.
This is usually a combination of low-dose aspirin and a medication called clopidogrel. It is very important to follow your medication schedule, as stopping medication early greatly increases the risk of the treated artery becoming blocked suddenly, causing a heart attack.
The course of clopidogrel will be withdrawn after about a year, but most people need to continue taking low-dose aspirin for the rest of their life.
You may need to have another angioplasty if your artery becomes blocked again and your angina symptoms return. Alternatively, you may need a coronary artery bypass graft (CABG).
Many hospitals offer a programme called cardiac rehabilitation for people who have had a heart operation. This programme aims to help you recover from the procedure and get back to everyday life as quickly as possible.
Before you have a coronary angioplasty, a member of the cardiac rehabilitation team may visit you in hospital to give you information about your condition and the procedure you are having.
You may also be invited to join a cardiac rehabilitation programme starting about a few weeks after you leave hospital.
What happens in cardiac rehabilitation programmes can vary widely throughout the country, but most will cover areas such as exercise, education, and relaxation and emotional support.
Once you have completed your rehabilitation programme, it is important you continue to take regular exercise and lead a healthy lifestyle (see below). This will help protect your heart and reduce the risk of further heart-related problems.
The British Heart Foundation has more information about cardiac rehabilitation.
If you have a coronary angioplasty, it's still important to take steps to reduce your risk of having further problems in the future. This may include:
Smoking and being overweight are two of the main causes of heart disease. They also make treatment less likely to work.
See healthy hearts for more lifestyle advice.
When to seek medical advice
You should contact the hospital unit where the procedure was carried out, your specialist cardiac nurse, or your GP for advice if you develop:
- a hard, tender lump (larger than the size of a pea) under the skin around your wound
- increasing pain, swelling and redness around your wound
- a high temperature (fever)
Dial 999 for an ambulance if you experience:
- any bleeding from your wound that doesn't stop, or restarts, after applying pressure for 10 minutes
- severe, constant pain
- discolouration, coldness or numbness in the leg or arm where the incision was made
Page last reviewed: 12/11/2013
Next review due: 12/11/2015