An atherectomy is a procedure that removes plaque from the inside of an artery. It can be used on its own or in combination with angioplasty, a procedure that widens an artery that has been narrowed or blocked due to plaque buildup. Plaque buildup in an artery is a serious condition, as it reduces the amount of blood flow that the arteries can deliver to tissues and organs within the body, which can lead to heart attack, aneurysms and stroke.

Tampa General Hospital’s Heart & Vascular Institute offers a wide variety of treatments for cardiovascular conditions, including atherectomy. Our multidisciplinary team of surgeons, cardiologists, diagnostic radiologists and cardiac care nurses always provides state-of-the-art care for our patients.

Conditions That Atherectomy Treats

The main condition that atherectomy treats is atherosclerosis, which is a hardening or narrowing of the arteries. This condition causes fatty deposits of calcium, cholesterol and other substances to build up in your arteries, effectively reducing blood flow.

Atherosclerosis is caused by:

  • High cholesterol
  • High blood pressure
  • Obesity
  • Diabetes
  • Smoking
  • Inflammation due to a condition like arthritis or lupus

What’s more, atherosclerosis can lead to peripheral artery disease (PAD), blood clots, chronic kidney disease, heart attack and stroke.

How Atherectomy Is Performed

An atherectomy is a minimally invasive procedure that is performed under local anesthesia. It involves:

  • Making a small puncture in an artery to insert a catheter that has a sharp blade on its end
  • Guiding the catheter through the artery to reach the blockage
  • Scraping away the accumulated plaque using the blade on the end of the catheter (the removed plaque will be collected in a chamber in the catheter)
  • Removing the catheter from the artery

This process can be repeated as many times as possible to remove a significant portion of plaque, if necessary.

What to Expect From Atherectomy

Atherosclerosis can cause chest pain, shortness of breath and leg or arm discomfort, so the main benefit of atherectomy is symptom relief. What’s more, as a minimally invasive procedure, recovery is typically easier than many other heart-based procedures with most patients only requiring an overnight stay at the hospital.

As with any medical procedure, however, there are risks, although these are very rare:

  • Prolonged bleeding
  • Bruising around the incision site
  • Infection
  • Damage or tears to the coronary artery
  • Embolization (dislodged plaque traveling to other arteries and causing blockages)

Effectiveness of Atherectomy

Patients who come to TGH for an atherectomy procedure benefit from our advanced techniques, individualized care and multispecialty providers. Atherectomy procedures are generally very effective, especially when combined with lifestyle changes like eating healthier and exercising regularly. Even better, by catching plaque buildup in its early stages, patients reduce the need for more intensive heart surgeries in the future.