Blood clots are a common health issue that require immediate medical attention. A blood clot that blocks or slows blood flow to the brain can lead to stroke. Thanks to modern imaging technology, a new, minimally invasive procedure has been developed to remove clots from the brain and other parts of the body: mechanical thrombectomy.
Mechanical Thrombectomy: The Facts
Mechanical thrombectomy is type of minimally-invasive procedure in which an interventional radiologist uses specialized equipment to remove a clot from a patient’s artery. Using fluoroscopy, or continuous x-ray, the doctor guides instruments through the patient’s arteries to the clot, extracting the clot all at once.
The radiologist starts the procedure by making a small incision in either the wrist or the abdomen, giving them to access to an artery. After making the incision, the doctor threads a catheter through the artery to the clot. Next, they insert a tiny net-like device called a stent retriever into the catheter and guide it to the blockage. They then push the stent retriever through the clot.
After the stent retriever is through, it expands to the size of the artery wall. At this point, the stent retriever has captured the clot, and the doctor is able to pull it out backwards, removing the clot entirely.
What Does Mechanical Thrombectomy Treat?
This procedure is used to treat arterial blockages caused by bloods clots. The following conditions are treatable by a mechanical thrombectomy:
Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT)–A blood clot that forms in an artery. DVTs form most often in the legs, but they can occur in the arms as well. DVT can cause permanent damage to the valves inside veins. This can lead to long-term problems in the leg such as pain, swelling, and leg sores. DVTs are also dangerous because of the possibility that the clot can break off and go to the lungs. If this occurs, the clot can end up blocking blood flow and causing a pulmonary embolism, a potentially fatal condition.
Ischemic Stroke–A blood clot that forms in an artery leading to the brain, or in an artery in another area of the body that is then swept to a brain artery. This causes the blood supply to the brain to stop or slow. In just a few minutes, permanent brain damage is possible.
Choose a Hospital That Performs Mechanical Thrombectomy
Studies have shown that patients who have a mechanical thrombectomy recover faster and have an improved quality of life compared to those patients using clot-busting tPAs (or tissue plasminogen activators) alone. Since blood clots are a serious medical condition, fast and effective treatment is essential.
Like all medical procedures, though, mechanical thrombectomies aren’t a perfect fit for everyone. In an emergency, know that if a tPA isn’t enough to take care of a clot, a mechanical thrombectomy is an available option.
At the University of Virginia Health System, we have interventional neuroradiologists specially trained to perform mechanical thrombectomies. If you or a loved one are at increased risk for stroke, make sure you know the warning signs. And, if possible, choose a medical center for stroke care, like the University of Virginia, where many different stroke therapies, including mechanical thrombectomies, are available.