What is an Atherectomy?

An atherectomy is a form of coronary angioplasty, a procedure to remove plaque from an artery (blood vessel). Removing plaque makes the artery wider so blood can flow more freely to the heart muscles. In an atherectomy, the plaque is shaved or vaporized away with tiny rotating blades or a laser on the end of a catheter (a thin, flexible tube).

What is plaque?

Plaque is the buildup in arteries of fat, cholesterol, calcium and other substances. When plaque builds it can block blood flow or it can rupture, causing blood clots. This build up of plaque is called atherosclerosis. An atherectomy is a treatment for atherosclerosis.

Who can benefit from an Atherectomy?

An atherectomy is sometimes performed on patients with very hard plaque or on patients who have already had angioplasty and stents, but who still have plaque blocking the flow of blood.

How is an Atherectomy performed?

The atherectomy procedure is performed in a cardiac catheterization lab. Before an atherectomy, the patient receives sedatives to help him or her relax. Next, a catheter is gently inserted in an artery, usually in the groin or upper thigh area. It's then guided through the blood vessel toward the heart. When it's in place, dye is injected through the catheter and into the coronary arteries. An X-ray is taken to help the physician pinpoint the area that is blocked or narrowed. The physician then uses tiny blades or a laser, attached to the end of the catheter, to cut away or vaporize plaque.
After the atherectomy, an angioplasty or stent procedure is sometimes performed. Once the treatment is complete, the catheter is removed. Most patients go home after about 24 hours.

Why Choose Stanford Hospital for an Atherectomy?

Stanford Interventional Cardiology is a world leader in procedures to re-establish blood flow to the heart. We perform approximately 1,000 interventions per year and offer the latest breakthroughs in the treatment of coronary artery disease including coronary revascularization.

The Stanford Heart Center offers state-of-the-art cardiac catheterization using low-radiation, high-resolution digital equipment that maximizes both patient safety and image quality. Stanford's three catheterization labs perform more than 4,000 procedures annually.

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