How to Shorten Heart Catheterization Recovery Time

Heart catheterization involves the insertion of tubes, also known as catheters, into the main vein of the groin area called the femoral artery or in the main vein of the arm called the radial artery. During the procedure, a small defect or puncture is often made in the vein and when the tubes are removed, blood may leak. However, there are ways to prevent bleeding from the puncture, such as:

  • Closing the defect with a device that makes a small stitch or suture
  • Clamping or applying pressure directly to area

Both methods are only temporary fixes to the artery, but over the next several days after the procedure, the area will grow stronger and heal. This is part of the heart catheterization recovery.

What Is the Heart Catheterization Recovery Time?

Heart catheterization recovery starts as soon as your procedure is complete and you are relocated to the hospital recovery room. The plastic sheath covering the insertion site into your artery is removed shortly after, unless you are required to continue taking blood-thinning drugs.

As soon as deemed safe, you will be moved to a regular hospital room. Once there, the tube or catheter is removed. In order to prevent bleeding, pressure will be applied to the insertion site by the nurse. Depending on the location, you may have to lie down flat for a couple hours so the artery can heal.

Even though you can drink and eat after your heart catheterization, you may not be able to go home right away. Depending on other factors and your overall condition, you may have to stay overnight or even a few days. However, often individuals can go home the same day.

For most people, the recovery process is very simple. Activity will be very limited the first day and then somewhat limited after that. It will take several weeks or more to completely heal, so care will need to be taken to prevent injury to the area.

What to Expect after Heart Catheterization

1.       Soreness at Insertion Site

It is typical for the tube insertion site to be sore for a couple of days after the procedure. This is normal during the heart catheterization recovery time. Right after the procedure, you will most likely be given a mild narcotic to ease the pain. Once home, you can take acetaminophen or aspirin. If your pain persists, the area becomes inflamed or red, or you develop a fever, you should call your doctor right away.

2.       Bruising

Do not be alarmed if you develop a bruise at the insertion site after the procedure. It is caused by blood that flowed to the area during the heart catheterization, not bleeding afterwards. It may catch you off guard at first, because often the bruised area can be quite large. If the insertion site was in the groin, the bruise may extend past your knee or further. It may even grow larger over time. Do not let it worry you. It will fade over time, finally disappearing completely.

3.       Lump at Insertion Site

Very often a small lump will form at the insertion spot. This is a common occurrence, caused by inflammation and trauma to the site. Avoid touching the lump, as this may cause irritation. Over the next couple of weeks or so, it will shrink and disappear.

After-Care Guidelines to Shorten Heart Catheterization Recovery Time

1.       Caring for Insertion Site

During heart catheterization recovery, you will need to care for the catheter insertion site. When you are released from the hospital, there will be a bandage covering the area.

  • You can take the bandage off the morning after you are released. It is easier to remove it when you are in the shower or by wetting the area to loosen it.
  • Once removed, you can place a small adhesive dressing or bandage to the area. Remember, the site may be bruised, pink, and slightly swollen. There may also be a quarter-sized lump. These things are normal.
  • You should wash the insertion site a minimum of once a day. You can use regular soap and water. Gently wash the area with your soapy hand or a soft soapy wash cloth. Take care to avoid rubbing the site.
  • Unless you are taking a shower, keep the site dry and clean.
  • Avoid using ointments, creams or lotions on the area.
  • Avoid wearing tight fitting garments and underwear.
  • Do not soak in a bath or hot tub, take a bath or go swimming in a pool, lake or large body of water for at least one week following the procedure.

2.       Limit Activity

Your doctor will instruct you on the types of activities you can perform and when you can resume your normal schedule. Typically, you will need to rest the first couple of day after you are released from the hospital. It is normal to feel tired and worn out after a heart catheterization procedure. Walk near or around your house, not out and about as you will need your rest. For femoral catheters, take care to:

  • Avoid straining while having a bowel movement for at least four days after your procedure so you do not induce bleeding from insertion site.
  • Avoid lifting, pushing or pulling anything heavier than 10 pounds for at least a week.
  • Walk slowly and carefully up and down stairs, if you must climb them at all.
  • Avoid activities like golfing, jogging, bowling, tennis or similar strenuous movements for 5-6 days.
  • Slowly increase your activity levels for at least one week before resuming normal levels and routines.

For radial cardiac catheters, take note to:

  • Avoid activities like golfing, jogging, bowling, tennis or similar strenuous movements for 2-3 days after the procedure.
  • Slowly increase your activity levels for 2-3 days before resuming normal levels and routines.

3.       Medication Guidelines

  • Before leaving the hospital, speak to your doctor about all your medications. Make sure you have a clear understanding on what you should take, including drugs you were prescribed before your procedure.
  • If you suffer from diabetes, your medication may have been modified for a few days after your procedure. Ask your doctor when you should resume your normal dose.
  • You may have to start taking new medications afterwards. Make sure you understand what drugs you should be taking during your heart catheterization recovery time and when to take them.

4.       Drink Fluids

You should drink at least eight glasses of water or clear liquid to clear your system of any contrast dyes or materials.

5.       Follow a Healthy Heart Lifestyle

You underwent a heart catheterization procedure for a reason: there was something wrong with your cardiac system. This is a wakeup call to follow a healthy heart lifestyle. To achieve this, you need to eat a healthy diet, quit unhealthy habits like smoking or drinking, take your regular medications as directed and follow the appointment schedule given by your doctor.

When to Call a Doctor

You should contact your doctor or seek medical advice right away if any of the following occur:

  • Uncontrollable bleeding at insertion site that will not cease when pressure is applied
  • Green or yellow discharge or pus draining from insertion site
  • Site of insertion becomes red, inflamed or painful
  • You become dizzy, fatigued or feel faint
  • Your limb below the insertion site, such as your leg or arm, is numb or cold or significantly changes in color
  • Chest pain
  • Cough expelling green or yellow mucus, or blood
  • Shortness of breath, with no relief from rest
  • Fever of 101 degrees Fahrenheit or higher
  • Irregular heartbeat, less than 60 beats per minute or higher than 100 beats per minute
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