Thrombolytic Therapy Dissolves Blood Clots

Explore how the heart and vascular experts at Tampa General Hospital dissolve blot clots.

Thrombolytic therapy is a treatment that dissolves blood clots. At Tampa General Hospital, our cardiovascular specialists often use this technique in emergencies when the threat of a heart attack, stroke or pulmonary embolism is imminent. Along with dissolving life-threatening blood clots, thrombolytic therapy helps to improve blood flow and prevent damage to tissues and organs.

Conditions Treated

Most commonly, thrombolytic therapy treats blood clots that have formed in the arteries of the:

  • Heart, which can lead to a heart attack
  • Brain, which can lead to an ischemic stroke
  • Lungs, which can lead to a pulmonary embolism

Thrombolytic therapy may be used if blood clots are found in:

  • Bypass grafts
  • Dialysis catheters
  • The legs, pelvic area or upper extremities
  • A vein deep in the body

Procedure Details

At TGH, we offer two types of thrombolytic therapy:

  • Systemic thrombolysis – Delivered intravenously, this treatment is performed at the patient’s bedside in the hospital while heart and lung function are consistently monitored. The medication circulates through the bloodstream until it reaches the clot.
  • Catheter-directed thrombolysis – This treatment is most commonly given to patients with deep vein thrombosis or pulmonary embolism. A thin tube called a catheter will be inserted into a vein and moved through the blood vessel until it reaches the clot to deliver medicine directly to it. If needed, a small machine in the catheter can break up and suction out the clot.

What to Expect

Thrombolysis is often given as a life-saving measure to prevent a heart attack, stroke or pulmonary embolism. And while it can effectively relieve symptoms without the need for more invasive surgical procedures, there are risks associated with this treatment, including:

  • Spontaneous bleeding, such as nosebleeds, bloody stools and heavy periods
  • Embolization, in which small pieces of the clot break off and travel deeper through the blood vessel
  • An allergic reaction to the contrast dye
  • Bruising or bleeding at the insertion site
  • Blood vessel damage


While thrombolytic therapy can be highly effective on its own, some patients may need to combine this treatment with angioplasty, a procedure that widens arteries near the heart to improve blood flow. This is often the case if muscle damage occurred due to the blood clot and/or if blood flow is still impaired after thrombolysis. TGH’s multidisciplinary team is well-versed in both techniques and will provide the advanced treatment you need and the highest quality of care you deserve.