After receiving a stent to treat a narrowed coronary artery, you may be back to your normal activities within a week. But you may have to make some lifestyle changes to maintain healthy heart function.
If you’ve been diagnosed with a blockage in an artery supplying blood to the heart muscle (coronary artery), you may be a candidate for a stent procedure.
A coronary stent is a small mesh tube that’s inserted into an artery where plaque has built up and narrowed the space for blood flow. The stent helps open the artery for better blood flow and healthier heart function.
Recovering from a heart stent procedure usually requires medication and some lifestyle changes. But a full recovery is typically much faster than bypass surgery, which is the other main alternative treatment for a blocked coronary artery.
The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute suggests that for many people, a full return to normal, everyday activities can take as little as
If you had a heart attack or are also dealing with other health issues, that initial recovery time may be longer.
About the heart stent procedure
The clinical term for a heart stent procedure is percutaneous coronary intervention (PCI) or angioplasty.
The procedure is usually done using a local anesthetic, though you will likely be given a medication to help you relax. A catheter is then inserted into a blood vessel — typically in the wrist — though sometimes in the groin. A guidewire is then inserted past the blockage, and a catheter with a balloon attached is loaded onto the wire and guided up to the site of the blockage.
Once the doctor determines the ideal location to place the stent using special X-ray equipment, the balloon is inflated, and the stent is expanded around it. The doctor will then deflate the balloon, leaving the stent in place. The stent pushes plaque against the arterial wall, creating a wider opening (lumen) through which blood can more easily reach the heart muscle.
If the procedure started in the groin, you will need to lie flat for several hours to prevent any bleeding complications. Depending on the circumstance of your procedure, you may need to stay overnight in the hospital.
Angioplasty done using a blood vessel in the arm may require a much shorter recovery time in the hospital or treatment center.
Once you’re home, you’ll need to take it easy for a few days. But you should still be able to get up and walk around. The key is listening to your body and staying in touch with your doctor’s office if you have questions or concerns.
If you’ve had a heart attack and received a stent, your time in the hospital and the recovery timeline may be longer than if you had the procedure done as a preventive treatment.
To reduce the chances of any complications, it’s important that you follow the advice of your healthcare team.
- participate in cardiac rehabilitation
- report any new symptoms to your doctor’s office immediately
- take your medications as your doctor prescribed
- lift anything heavy or engage in strenuous activity for at least
a day or two
- rush back to work or other activities until you feel ready and your doctor gives the OK
- consume alcohol in amounts that exceed what you and your healthcare team has considered acceptable
There is a small risk of clot formation in a coronary stent, so your healthcare team will likely prescribe antiplatelet medication (blood thinner) for at least a year after receiving a stent.
Depending on your overall health, they may also prescribe one or more antihypertensive medications to help manage high blood pressure and a statin or similar medication to help lower high cholesterol.
Generally, moderate alcohol consumption is safe and appropriate for most people with a coronary stent.
However, you should discuss this with your doctor, as alcohol consumption can raise blood pressure, and alcohol can interact with certain heart medications.
The decision to fly or drive after receiving a stent depends on how you are feeling and whether the stent was placed in response to a heart attack or as an elective measure.
The American Heart Association suggests waiting
According to the U.K.’s National Health Service, most people can typically start driving after a week.
Whenever and however you travel, just remember to have your medications with you, as well as your medical information. That information can be helpful in case of an emergency, and it should include:
- emergency contacts, including family members or friends, and your healthcare team
- list of current medications
- medical history (including the date and details of your recent stent procedure)
In general, before making a decision about driving or flying, it’s best to consult your doctor and talk about any precautions you should take. For example, you may be reminded to avoid salty and high fat foods, which may be more available when traveling.
Receiving a stent to improve circulation in your heart can be a life changing treatment. Like any medical procedure, it’s important to carefully follow the advice of your healthcare team and not try to rush your recovery.
At the same time, too much bed rest isn’t good for your heart either. Some physical activity in the days after your heart stent procedure may be appropriate, followed by a gradual increase in the frequency and intensity of your exercise.
Again, it’s important that you work with your healthcare team and immediately report any changes to your doctor.