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Learning About Thrombectomy for Stroke

The brain with detail of clot in a blood vessel.

What is thrombectomy?

Thrombectomy is a procedure to remove a blood clot from a blood vessel. It can be used for some people who've had a stroke.

Blood clots in the brain can cause ischemic (say "iss-KEE-mick") strokes. Thrombectomy can remove the clot and help blood to flow normally again. This can help limit damage to the brain.

Why is thrombectomy used for a stroke?

Thrombectomy may be an option for some people who have an ischemic stroke. It can improve recovery and lower the risk of death, especially if it's given as soon as possible after the stroke happens. Doctors try to use the procedure within 6 to 24 hours of a stroke. It can limit damage to the brain and loss of body function from a stroke by removing the blood clot. If a blood clot in the brain isn't removed, it's more likely to cause serious damage.

In general, the less damage there is to the brain tissue, the less disability a stroke causes. And with less damage, people are more likely to recover from a stroke.

No treatment can promise a full recovery from a stroke. But the procedure can improve the chances of having less or no disability after a stroke.

How is it done?

For the procedure, the person may get medicine to sleep or relax and go into a light sleep. The doctor puts a thin, flexible tube (catheter) into a blood vessel in the groin or wrist. Then the doctor moves the catheter through the blood vessel into the brain.

The catheter may be used to inject a dye into the blood vessel. The dye lets the doctor see a picture of the blood vessel on a video screen during the procedure.

The catheter is also used to remove the clot. This is done with a tiny tool that fits inside the catheter.

What are the risks?

The risks of thrombectomy are mainly related to the procedure itself. Risks include bleeding where the catheter was put in and a tear or sudden closure of a blood vessel.

How can you decide if thrombectomy is right for you?

Based on your condition, the doctor will explain what other choices you have for treatment. They may include medicines that dissolve the clot or stop the clot from getting bigger. With or without thrombectomy, you will have care to help you get better. And you'll have medicine to prevent blood clots.

To help you decide whether to have this procedure, your doctor can explain how thrombectomy may help you recover from a stroke. But because there are also risks, it's up to you or your loved ones to choose it or not.

Having a stroke can make it hard to make quick and complex decisions. The hospital staff understands this. They will explain the choices, answer questions, and help you and your loved ones decide about your treatment.

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse advice line (811 in most provinces and territories) if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

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