Understanding Thrombectomy and Embolectomy

Thrombectomy and embolectomy are life-saving procedures mostly performed in emergency situations. The terms embolectomy and thrombectomy are sometimes used interchangeably, but there are some differences between the two. To understand how a thrombectomy or embolectomy is performed, you must first understand why they are done.

Sometimes, due to various factors like disease, blood clots can form in the blood vessels. A thrombus is usually a solid-mass stationary clot. An embolus is when part or all of that clot is dislodged and begins to travel through the circulatory system. Essentially, an embolus is a moving thrombus. These clots can pose serious and even fatal risks.

When an artery is obstructed by a thrombus or embolus, it is called a thromboembolism or embolism. Types of embolisms include:

  • Thromboembolism – A formation in a blood vessel by a blood clot that has become dislodged from another site and carried through the bloodstream
  • Cholesterol embolism – Blockage of a blood vessel as the result of atherosclerotic plaque
  • Fat embolism – Blockage of a blood vessel caused by fat or bone fractures
  • Air embolism – Obstruction of a blood vessel by gaseous matter, such as an air bubble
  • Septic embolism – A bacteria-containing pus blockage of a blood vessel
  • Tissue embolism – A blockage of a blood vessel formed by natural tissues within the body
  • Foreign body embolism – A blockage of a blood vessel that wasn’t naturally produced by the body
  • Amniotic fluid embolism – An obstruction of a blood vessel formed by amniotic fluid, fetal cells, hair or other debris that have entered the mother’s bloodstream

A thrombectomy is the removal of a thrombus and an embolectomy is the removal of an embolus.

Types of embolectomy and thrombectomy

There are two main types of embolectomy and thrombectomy, depending on the blood vessel that needs treatment and the severity of the condition. These are:

Catheter-based procedures

Catheter-based procedures involve passing a small tube through a tiny incision into the clot site. We use special instruments to remove the clot by using balloon embolectomy or aspiration embolectomy.

  • Balloon embolectomy is done by inserting a catheter with a small inflatable balloon attached at the end into the vein and past the clot. The balloon is then inflated and slowly pulled back out of the vein, removing the clot with it.
  • An aspiration embolectomy is performed by using suction to remove the thrombus from the vein.

Open surgery

Open surgery involves making a larger incision in the area of the blood clot through the blood vessel to remove it. Open surgery is less common but is sometimes the best choice for emergencies to save an organ or in other cases.

Risks and complications if not treated

If obstructions within the vein go untreated, some serious complications can occur. These include:

Pulmonary embolism

A pulmonary embolism occurs when a blood clot travels up to a vein within a lung from another part of the body, causing a blockage. It is crucial to be aware of the warning signs of a pulmonary embolism, as it can be fatal. Symptoms or signs of a pulmonary embolism include:

  • Chest pain or discomfort that worsens when you take a deep breath or when you cough
  • Unexplained sudden onset of shortness of breath
  • Rapid pulse
  • Feeling lightheaded or dizzy, fainting
  • Coughing up blood

If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, seek medical attention immediately.

Postphlebitic syndrome

Postphlebitic syndrome occurs as a complication of damage to the vein caused by a blood clot. The damage results in inhibited blood flow in the affected areas of the vein. Signs and symptoms include:

  • Leg pain
  • Swelling of the legs
  • Skin sores
  • Skin discoloration

For more information on vein and vascular procedures, call the specialists at Baton Rouge Vascular Specialty Center at (225) 769-4493 today to schedule your next appointment.