Atherectomy is a minimally invasive procedure healthcare providers use to remove plaque buildup and open narrow or blocked arteries. The procedure helps restore healthy blood flow and relieves symptoms of peripheral artery disease (PAD).
Peripheral artery disease (PAD) happens when plaque builds up in your arteries, causing them to become narrow and block your blood flow. This plaque build-up is atherosclerosis. In an atherectomy, healthcare providers remove plaque with a catheter with a sharp blade or laser on its end. The sharp blade or laser lets them cut out or scrape out the hard plaque. Your provider may also perform angioplasty (ballooning) or stent placement.
In the U.S., about 6.5 million people ages 40 and older have PAD. Researchers estimate that healthcare providers in the U.S. perform more than 190,000 atherectomies annually.
All atherectomies remove plaque buildup from your arteries. Healthcare providers may use different types of blades or use lasers to remove plaque:
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Your healthcare provider may recommend certain tests to see narrowing or blockages in your arteries. You may have:
Follow your provider’s instructions to prepare for the procedure, including whether you should:
Your provider tells you when to arrive on the day of the procedure. When you arrive, you change into a hospital gown. A provider inserts a catheter to deliver anesthesia so you won’t feel pain during atherectomy.
After you receive local anesthesia and mild sedation, your healthcare provider:
Your healthcare provider may repeat the process several times until they remove enough plaque so blood can flow through your artery.
You need to lie flat for up to six hours after atherectomy to prevent bleeding. Healthcare providers will monitor your blood pressure, pulse and heart rate while you recover.
Atherectomy often relieves PAD symptoms without major surgery. Atherectomy is a minimally invasive procedure. Healthcare providers make just one small puncture to get to your artery. It typically takes about two hours to perform the procedure.
Sometimes a piece of plaque can break off and become lodged or stuck in a smaller downstream blood vessel as healthcare providers cut or scrape away plaque. The atherectomy procedure can also cut too deep and create a tear or hole in your blood vessel.
Most of the time, atherectomy is an outpatient procedure, meaning you can go home the same day. You may spend one day in the hospital. Your healthcare provider lets you know what to expect based on your situation. Most people are able to resume their typical activities a few days after their procedure. Everyone’s situation is different, so ask your healthcare provider when you can go back to your routine.
Tell your healthcare provider if you have any new or worsening symptoms, especially:
A note from Cleveland Clinic
An atherectomy is a minimally invasive way to remove plaque from blood vessels, opening up your arteries so your blood can flow normally. Healthcare providers often use this procedure to treat peripheral artery disease (PAD). If you have this condition, an atherectomy may be one way to ease your symptoms.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 10/19/2022.
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