Vascular Surgery: Recovery

If you are scheduled for vascular surgery, it’s important to understand that there are many types of vascular disease. The time it takes for you to recover will depend on many different factors including:

  • The condition you are diagnosed with
  • The type of procedure you are having done
  • Where your procedure will be performed (in an inpatient or outpatient setting)

Recovery from vascular surgery is largely based on how the procedure is formed.

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Surgery Follow-Up

After vascular surgery, it’s important to schedule a follow-up appointment as soon as the day after surgery (for those having outpatient procedures). This is important because your vascular surgeon will need to perform tests to ensure the surgery was successful and to detect conditions such as early restenosis. Early restenosis is a condition involving a section of an artery that was opened (via angioplasty or a stent) that has become narrowed again. 

After the initial follow-up appointment, the next office visit should take place approximately 30 days thereafter, and then every six months up to a year after your surgery.

Long-term follow up after vascular surgery should be scheduled yearly. The health care provider who is in charge of your care during your vascular surgery—such as a vascular surgeon or cardiologist—should be the person to perform your follow up examinations.

Recovery Timeline

The recovery timeline for vascular surgery depends on how the procedure was performed. Common types of vascular surgery recovery include:

Vein Procedure Recovery

Endovenous Laser Ablation & Sclerotherapy

Treatment of spider veins and varicose veins is considered relatively minor; these procedures are usually performed during an office visit. One such treatment is called sclerotherapy (the injection of a solution that causes spider veins to shrink). Another type of therapy for the treatment of vein disorders is endovenous laser ablation treatment for varicose veins. This is a type of treatment that utilizes heat from a laser to reduce varicose veins.

After surgery, you can expect to:

  • Be encouraged to walk right after the procedure
  • Have some bruising for about two weeks
  • Apply an ice pack for 15-minute increments to reduce swelling
  • Keep the incision sites dry for the first 48 hours 
  • Take a sponge bath until the bandages are removed
  • Take over the counter pain medication as instructed by your health care provider
  • Wear compression stockings for three days or longer (as advised by your surgeon) 
  • Avoid sitting for long periods of time
  • Elevate your legs
  • Walk for 10 to 20 minutes three times per day for the first week or two
  • Stay active, gradually return to normal activities but avoid heavy lifting, running, or jumping for one to two weeks
  • Avoid hot baths for one to two weeks
  • Return to work as soon as the day after the procedure
  • Fully recover in approximately one to two weeks

Vein Stripping

Not all vein procedures are considered minor, nor are they all performed in an office setting. A vein stripping procedure (involving the surgical removal of the saphenous vein) is performed in the hospital. The saphenous vein is the largest vein in the leg and it is a common culprit when it comes to the location of varicose veins. After a saphenous vein stripping procedure, you can expect to:

  • Have bruising and swelling the first 2 weeks
  • Wear compression stockings for the first 2 weeks
  • Begin walking shortly after your procedure and slowly increase your activity level
  • Avoid strenuous activities
  • Return to work in the first 1 to 2 weeks
  • Expect a full recovery in approximately 2 to 4 weeks

Arterial Procedure

A balloon angioplasty and stenting is considered a common arterial procedure; it is done to open a narrowed area of an artery, usually caused by atherosclerosis. A balloon device is used to open the narrowed area of the artery. Next, a catheter is used to guide the stent, which is permanently placed to keep the artery open and allow arterial blood flow to continuously provide oxygen to the organs and tissues of the body. The procedure is performed in the hospital surgical suite; after surgery, you should expect to:

  • Be discharged from the hospital approximately 12 to 72 hours after the catheter is removed.
  • Have bruising for the first few days before it gradually begins to subside
  • Be encouraged to walk right away, with a gradual increase in the distance you walk
  • Avoid sitting or standing for long periods of time
  • Elevate your legs when lying down
  • Experience more fatigue than usual for the first few days
  • Be encouraged to walk, and perform light activities only the first five days.
  • Return to work within a few days
  • Wait for three to four weeks before doing any type of strenuous activity (such as lifting heavy objects) but only after your doctor’s approval
  • Expect a full recovery in approximately 6 to 8 weeks

Bypass Surgery

Bypass surgery is a procedure involving the placement of a healthy, new vein (or a plastic device) to bypass the poor circulation from a vein or artery that is narrowed or blocked. Arteries usually become blocked from plaques which occur from atherosclerosis, and veins often have clots that cause a narrowing or an occlusion. Bypass surgery is done in a hospital surgical suite; you can expect to be hospitalized for approximately one week after surgery. After surgery, you can also expect to:

  • Spend one to two days in bed if your surgery involved the aorta
  • Be transferred to the intensive care unit (ICU) if your surgery involved the aorta
  • Begin walking soon after your surgery to help reduce swelling and promote healing in your incision.
  • Stay in the hospital for four to seven days (if you had a femoral-popliteal bypass)
  • Be encouraged to walk within 24 hours of having the surgery and slowly increase your walking distance and speed
  • Avoid driving for at least a week, or anytime you are taking opioid pain medications, or anytime you are having leg pain.
  • Avoid submerging your incision area in water (no swimming or baths) for at least two weeks or until our incisions are well healed.
  • Take a shower to keep your incisions clean (but be sure to thoroughly dry them by patting dry; don’t rub your incisions with a towel or washcloth).
  • Learn to check your pulse in your leg and foot to ensure you have good circulation and follow your doctor’s instructions on how often to check these pulses.
  • Avoid standing for long periods or sitting with your feet down (elevate your feet whenever you sit).
  • Expect a full recovery in approximately 4 to 8 weeks. 

Note, this recovery timeline is based on average recovery periods, everyone is different, recovery can take longer or shorter depending on many factors such as:

  • Whether you have complications after surgery
  • Your age (older people usually take longer to recover)
  • Your overall health
  • Other factors

Coping With Recovery

After vascular surgery, most people need some time to adjust, coping involves dealing with pain and immobility after surgery; it also involves employing some new lifestyle modifications as well as adjusting emotionally to all of these new changes. 

Coping With Pain

Your health care team will advise you on what type of pain medication to take after your surgery. In some instances, prescription pain medications will be given, but for other types of procedures, over-the-counter pain medication (such as Tylenol or ibuprofen) will be strong enough to alleviate your pain. Be sure to talk with your health care provider in advance about what type of pain medication you will receive. Educating yourself before your surgery can help minimize some of the anxiety and pain that is experienced after surgery. It’s never a good idea to wait until you have severe pain to find out what the plan of care is. There are other measures you can take to cope with pain other than taking medications such as:

  • Getting enough sleep: According to UC Berkeley scientists, sleep loss heightens a person’s pain sensitivity.
  • Engage in physical activity: While it’s important not to overdo it after surgery, sitting around being physically idle is not good for your recovery process. In fact, being too sedentary after surgery could predispose you to have dangerous side effects (such as being more prone to getting blood clots or pneumonia). Inactivity is also known to increase your level of pain because when you don’t move your muscles enough, they get sore and begin to ache. Be sure to consult with your health care team about how much activity and how strenuous your activity should be after surgery. 
  • Minimize stress: Stress can exacerbate (worsen) pain. Employing some stress reduction techniques such as deep breathing and relaxation exercises can help lower stress and minimize your pain level after surgery. 

Coping With Emotions

It’s normal to have an emotional reaction to having vascular surgery. In fact, according to a 2016 study, major depressive disorder is “a frequent complication of surgery, which may lead to further morbidity [illness] and mortality [death].”

After having an operation, many people experience an initial feeling of relief, followed by an array of various emotions. These feelings often occur due to various factors related to having surgery, including:

  • Anesthesia
  • Medications
  • Loss of sleep
  • Fear and worry linked with having surgery
  • Stress

Common emotions experienced after a surgical procedure include:

  • Mood swings
  • Depression
  • Fear
  • Anxiety
  • Grief

It may help to be aware of the common symptoms that surgery can have on emotions. Being aware of what to look for and when to seek help if you start having signs of serious emotional issues (such as depression) can help you get a jump on managing your emotions after your surgery. According to the ADAA, common signs of major depression that may warrant a consultation with your doctor include:

  • Ongoing feelings of sadness or emptiness
  • Feeling anxious, hopeless or pessimistic
  • Feeling worthless or helpless
  • Loss of interest in things that you usually enjoy
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Insomnia (difficulty sleeping) or oversleeping
  • Restlessness
  • Irritability
  • Lack of appetite, weight loss, or weight gain
  • Thoughts of suicide or a plan; suicide attempt

If you have any of these symptoms, particularly if you are having suicidal thoughts, a suicide plan, or an attempt, it’s important to seek immediate medical advice. Your surgeon may refer you to a psychiatrist, a counselor, or another type of mental health professional. 

Wound Care

Many arterial procedures require an incision in the groin. Your incision—which has been closed with staples or stitches— will not be fully healed when you leave the hospital. According to UW Health, groin wound care should include:

  • You may take a shower, and it’s okay if the incision gets wet
  • Do not fully immerse the incision (such as when soaking in a bathtub or swimming)
  • Clean the wound and groin as instructed by the discharge nurse before leaving the hospital.
  • Gently clean the area with mild soap and water
  • Do not scrub the incision, but you can gently remove any crusted areas
  • Rinse the soap off thoroughly
  • Pat the incision dry
  • Completely dry the groin area
  • Avoid the use of lotions, body oil, powders, or tinctures (solutions with alcohol) on the incision
  • Cover the incision with Band-Aids 

A Word From Verywell

The most important thing to keep in mind when it comes to recovery from any type of surgery, including vascular surgery, is to closely follow your surgeon’s advice when it comes to your activity, wound care, medication and all other aspects of recovery.  

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Article Sources
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