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What is atherectomy?

During an atherectomy, we use a catheter – a thin, flexible tube – with a sharp blade on the end to rid a blood vessel of fatty matter and plaque. This is a minimally invasive procedure, and rather than moving the blockage aside like other treatments, it actually removes the plaque from your arteries entirely. Our specialists guide the catheter through your blood vessels to the blockage we plan to treat and use the blade to shave away the plaque, reopening your artery to allow blood to flow normally.

Why it's done

Our experts might recommend this procedure if your arteries become too narrowed or blocked from atherosclerosis, or plaque buildup inside the artery walls. In some instances, it might also be performed to treat scar tissue from past atherectomies or angioplasty procedures, which involve inserting a small balloon into the artery to open it up.

Our approach

When it comes to restoring function to your arteries, our specialists go above and beyond to preserve your quality of life and independence. The unique aspects of your condition guide our treatment recommendations. If you’re dealing with recurrent blockages, or scar tissue formation inside your arteries, we might recommend an atherectomy to restore normal blood flow. You can count on our team to analyze every inch of your condition to uncover the most viable, state-of-the-art procedure possible.

Risk factors

Certain lifestyle factors increase the likelihood that you will need an atherectomy as a treatment for atherosclerosis, including:

  • Smoking
  • Diabetes
  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • Kidney failure

Due to the gradual progression of atherosclerosis, it is uncommon that we perform this procedure on people under the age of 50.

Complications

While the risks and complications associated with this procedure are uncommon, any procedure performed on the arteries carries a risk of scar tissue forming, which could lead to future narrowing of the arteries that requires intervention. We work hard to prevent this, and other complications, such as bleeding and infection. The result is usually a quick, seamless procedure that allows you to get back to your life quickly.

What to expect

We usually perform atherectomy under local or regional anesthesia, in addition to giving you a mild sedative through an IV. You can expect the procedure to be relatively painless, with only minimal discomfort at the puncture site. We’ll insert the catheter through your blood vessel and guide it to the blockage, scraping away the plaque and collecting it in a chamber in the tip of the catheter. We might also use a special type of dye and x-ray to make the blockage more visible in your blood vessel. The procedure typically takes less than two hours.

How to prepare

We might ask you to stop taking medications like aspirin or blood thinners before your atherectomy. You may also need to fast before your procedure to control your blood sugar. We recommend certain lifestyle changes to reduce the risk of complications as well, such as quitting smoking.

Recovery

Atherectomy is a minimally invasive procedure, so you’ll usually be able to leave the hospital after one night, or sometimes a couple of nights. In most cases, you’ll be back to your regular life in a matter of days.

Results

In the majority of cases, atherectomy is effective in removing the blockages in the arteries treated. However, there is the chance that the condition could return without proper ongoing care. We’ll work with you to adopt healthy lifestyle modifications to reduce the chances of recurrence.  

Follow-up care

You may be prescribed a blood thinner or aspirin to decrease the risk of blood clots. We may also recommend you refrain from certain strenuous activities for the next few days while you recover. Additionally, you’ll need to drink plenty of fluids to flush any dyes used in the procedure from your system.

Long-term care

After your atherectomy, we follow up with you on an ongoing basis to make sure atherosclerosis is not causing problems anywhere else in your body. We are dedicated to a lifelong partnership with our patients to ensure you are independent, active and free from complications.

Possible side effects

Though most patients experience no side effects from this treatment, you could experience pain, bleeding and bruising. If you notice any of these side effects, it’s important to bring them to our attention, as they could be indicative of a larger problem.

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