What is a thrombectomy?

A thrombectomy is an innovative surgical procedure used to remove blood clots from arteries and veins. Blood clots can disrupt the normal flow of blood to a part of the body, causing life-threatening conditions such as pulmonary embolism or an acute stroke.

During a thrombectomy procedure, the surgeon will insert a catheter into the patient’s blood vessel to remove the blockage and restore blood flow to the affected area.

Depending on the location of the clot and severity of the blockage, immediate treatment is often crucial. In cases of a stroke, for example, as many as two million brain cells can die for every minute the brain is deprived of blood.

How is a thrombectomy performed?

During a catheter-based thrombectomy, the surgeon will make an incision in the groin and advance a catheter through an artery to the clot. In order to maneuver the catheter to the exact location, the surgeon will use a specialized X-ray to monitor placement of the catheter.

A stent-retriever is then slid into the catheter, which traps and encases the blood clot, allowing the surgeon to remove both the stent and the blockage from the blood vessel at the same time. Once removed, blood supply is restored and the patient is monitored for improvement.

Other catheter-based thrombectomy procedures include using mechanical devices such as an inflatable balloon or suction to remove the blockage. In some emergency situations, a type of open surgery thrombectomy can be used to directly remove a clot. Due to needing a larger incision, open surgery thrombectomies generally require longer recovery than catheter-based procedures.

Thrombectomy Blood Cells

What is the difference between a thrombus and an embolus?

Both a thrombus and a embolus are a blood clot or foreign body within a blood vessel, resulting in the blocking of blood flow. The key difference between the two derives from where the clot is formed.

A thrombus is defined as a blood clot that forms within a blood vessel. An embolus is any piece of the clot that breaks off and travels through the bloodstream until it lodges itself into a blood vessel that is too small to pass through.

While both blockages are similar, the distinction between the two types can determine how a blood vessel handles the normal return of blood flow. Ultimately, a thrombectomy will be able to treat a patient diagnosed with either a thrombus or embolus. 

What conditions are treated with a thrombectomy?

Thrombectomies are typically used to treat clot-causing strokes. Large blood clots can form when blood thickens and clumps to form a blockage in an artery. When this happens, blood flow is diminished, cutting off oxygen to the brain and causing damage to nearby tissues.

Other blockages can be created by plaque – a combination of cholesterol and calcium – which may form in other areas of the body. These blockages can then travel to smaller blood vessels causing a stroke, heart attack or other serious tissue damage.

Dr. Ahuja and the experienced team at Neurosurgery and Endovascular Associates perform thrombectomies for those that have experienced acute strokes.

What effect does a thrombectomy treatment have for those who have experienced an acute stroke?

While any blood clot can cause major issues, a 2017 study has shown that thrombectomy treatment within 24 hours after an acute stroke can result in a 73% lower risk of disability.

Recovery will vary widely and will depend on individual health and conditions, and a thrombectomy will not prevent the chance of another blood clot forming again. Consult your doctor about any lifestyle changes and medication that may be prescribed following a thrombectomy to help encourage long-term health improvements.