What is thrombolysis?

Thrombolysis, also commonly referred to as thrombolytic therapy, is an emergency treatment used to dissolve dangerous blood clots in the vessels leading to the heart, lungs or brain. If your doctor or care team suspects you have a severely blocked vessel, the team may inject clot-busting drugs directly into the blockage to improve blood flow and prevent severe damage to the tissues and vital organs.

It is important to initiate thrombolytic therapy within 30 minutes of arriving at the hospital or within two hours of the start of symptoms.

When is thrombolysis necessary?

Thrombolysis is a treatment option to reverse or reduce effects of:

  • Deep vein thrombosis - clots in the legs that break off and travel to the lungs can lead to a pulmonary embolism, which will need to be broken up by thrombolytic therapy
  • Stroke - blocked arteries in the brain
  • Heart attack - blocked vessels that feed the heart
  • Blocked dialysis fistulas - blocked surgical bypasses

Alternative therapies such as a thrombectomy, removing the clot or another procedure to open blocked vessels may be considered if thrombolytic therapy is deemed too dangerous for a specific patient.

Patients who may not be candidates include those who:

  • Use blood-thinning medication
  • Take dietary supplements
  • Have severe high blood pressure
  • Have severe kidney disease

What to expect from a thrombolysis?

If you need an emergency thrombolysis, your Mercy Health doctor will choose the most effective administration route for your case.

Administration routes include:

  • Injecting clot-busting drugs to the blockage through a catheter into the bloodstream where they will eventually find the clot and break it down
  • Inject the medication through a catheter directly into the clot
  • Perform a mechanical thrombectomy that involves using a catheter with a suction cup and rotating blade on the end. The blade will break up the clot, and the suction cup will suck up the clot pieces and take it out of the body.

Treatment time can take several hours to several days depending on how big the clot is.

What are benefits of a thrombolysis?

Thrombolytic therapy can save your life. If administered in the appropriate time frame, the medication can save a life and prevent damage to the vital organs and vessels.

What are complications associated with thrombolysis?

Severe bleeding is the most common complication associated with thrombolytic therapy. As many as 5 percent of patients who have thrombolytic therapy experience major bleeding and as many as 1 percent of patients have a hemorrhagic stroke (bleeding in the brain).

In some cases, as the medications soften the clot, a piece breaks off and travels to another part of the body to block another organ.

Minor bleeds can occur from the needle insertion site, in the nose, in the urine or in the stool.

Recovery from thrombolysis

Further treatment is typically necessary after thrombolytic therapy to treat the underlying condition that caused the blocked vessel. Although thrombolysis is successful in dissolving the damaging blood clot in 75 percent of patients, a small percentage of patients may develop a clot that blocks another vessel.

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