What is lysis (thrombolytic) therapy?

Thrombolytic therapy, also known as lysis therapy, is emergency treatment for patients who have completely blocked arteries or veins caused by blood clots. During this treatment, clot-dissolving medication is delivered via a catheter directly to the area in the vessel that is blocked. Thrombolytic therapy should begin immediately before permanent damage to a vital organ occurs.

Who is a candidate for Lysis (thrombolytic) therapy?

Thrombolytic therapy is recommended for patients who are suffering from blocked vessels in following areas of the body:

  • Brain - which could lead to a stroke
  • Heart - which could lead to a heart attack
  • Lung - which could lead to a pulmonary embolism
  • Leg - which could lead to deep vein thrombosis

How does Lysis (thrombolytic) therapy work?

Thrombolytic therapy involves inserting a catheter into an artery in the groin and threading to the site of the clot. When in position, the medication is released directly into the clot. Your doctor may also use special tools attached to the end of the catheter to break up the clot to allow blood to flow through the vessel while the medication is working. 

Depending on the underlying cause of the blood clot, you may receive clot dissolving medication for 60 minutes up to 48 hours. Patients with deep vein thrombosis may have the longest treatment sessions due to the severity and size of the blood clots that come from the legs. 

What are benefits of Lysis (thrombolytic) therapy?

Thrombolytic therapy is less risky than treatment with blood-thinning medications such as warfarin and heparin. These medications can cause vein damage.

What are risks of Lysis (thrombolytic) therapy?

Severe bleeding is the main risk associated with thrombolytic therapy. If you start bleeding during the treatment, your doctor or healthcare provider will stop the treatment immediately. Bleeding can occur in the following areas:

  • At the injury site
  • At the puncture site 
  • In the urine, urine or stool
  • In the brain - leading to a stroke

Also, as the clot dissolves, part of the clot could break off and travel to another organ such as the lungs or legs to block another vessel.

Recovery from thrombolytic therapy

Although in most cases thrombolytic therapy will alleviate your symptoms and dissolve the blood clot, there are cases where the treatment is not effective. In some patients, the clot is not completely dissolved, and in others, there may be permanent damage to the vital organs because of the restricted blood flow. 

If further treatment is needed, your Mercy Health vascular surgeon will assess your case and develop a treatment plan designed specifically for you. You may need: 

  • Imaging tests such as CT scan, echocardiogram, arteriogram or venogram
  • Minimally invasive procedures such as balloon angioplasty, stenting or open surgery
  • Medications such as blood thinners 

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