Houston Methodist. Leading Medicine.
Houston Methodist. Leading Medicine

Methodist DeBakey Cardiology Associates


Atherectomy is a catheter-based procedure designed to remove plaque buildup in coronary arteries. This is done using either:

  • a laser catheter to vaporize the plaque, or
  • a "shaver" on the end of the catheter to scrape out a portion of the plaque.

» Why is atherectomy performed?
» What happens in an atherectomy procedure?
» What can I expect after an atherectomy?

Why is atherectomy performed?

Your doctor may recommend an atherectomy if plaque buildup has caused one or more of your coronary arteries to become narrowed or blocked. Unlike angioplasty and stents, which push plaque into the vessel wall, atherectomy involves removing the plaque from the vessel.

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What happens in an atherectomy procedure?

Atherectomies are performed in a special operating room called a cardiac catheterization laboratory ("cath lab"), and the entire procedure lasts about 2 hours.

  1. First you’re given some medication to help you relax; then your doctor numbs the site where the catheter will be inserted (either in the arm or in the groin) with a local anesthetic.
  2. The doctor uses a needle to make a small hole in your arm or groin and inserts a tapered tube called a sheath into the hole.
  3. A catheter is inserted through the sheath into your blood vessel and navigated to the blocked artery, guided by an imaging method called fluoroscopy.
  4. What happens next depends on the type of atherectomy being performed. Either a laser will be used to vaporize the blockage, or a sharp blade will be used to cut away the plaque.
  5. Depending on the location of the blockage, a stent may be put in place to ensure that the artery remains open.
  6. When the atherectomy is complete, your doctor removes the catheter and the sheath and closes the opening in your blood vessel.

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What can I expect after an atherectomy?

After your atherectomy, you will be moved to a special care unit, where you will be asked to remain still while the catheter insertion site closes. Your care team will check your blood pressure, temperature and other vital signs regularly.

Most patients spend 1 to 2 days in the hospital following an atherectomy. Before you go home, your doctor will give you specific instructions to follow, including how much activity you can do, when and how to take your medications, and how to care for the catheter insertion site. Be sure to follow his or her instructions closely, and feel free to call the office if you have any questions.

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Learn about other catheter-based procedures:

For more information about Methodist DeBakey Cardiology Associates or to make an appointment, please call us at 713-441-1100 or 888-361-4375, or contact us online.