Understanding Embolectomy

By Michels, Karen 
March 16, 2019

Understanding Embolectomy

Cross section of artery in brain showing embolus blocking blood flow.

Embolectomy is surgery to remove a blood clot (embolus) from one of your blood vessels. The clot may block the flow of blood to your tissues or organs. Removal of an embolus is often an emergency procedure.


Why embolectomy is done

An embolus is a blood clot that has traveled from another part of the body and lodged in a blood vessel. It can block the flow of blood through the vessel. This can cause serious problems, including tissue or organ damage. Removing the clot allows blood to flow freely again.

How embolectomy is done

  • An intravenous (IV) line will be put in a vein in your arm or hand. You may be given medicine to help you relax (sedation) through the IV.

  • You will be given medicine to help prevent pain during the procedure.

  • The healthcare provider will make a cut (incision) through your skin and into the blood vessel with the clot. Or he or she makes a cut in another blood vessel so that a tube may be put in to reach the clot. A dye test (angiogram or venogram) may be used to help the provider see the blood vessel and clot on a video screen.

  • The healthcare provider will remove the clot from blood vessel.

  • The provider may use a thin tube (catheter) to remove any part of the clot that remains. He or she may put a small mesh tube (stent) in the blood vessel to help hold the vessel open. This is not removed.

  • The blood vessel is closed.

  • The incision is closed and bandaged. 

Risks of embolectomy

  • Bleeding

  • Infection

  • Damage to the blood vessel or nearby tissues

  • Blood clot fragments dislodging and moving into other parts of the body, including the heart, lungs, or brain

  • Compartment syndrome. This is increased pressure in the muscle. It cuts down on the flow of blood.

  • Provider may not be able to remove the clot

  • Provider may detect other disease in the blood vessel that will need more surgery to fix

  • Loss of blood supply to the limb. This could result in an amputation.


March 16, 2019


Coleman DM. Balloon Catheter Embolectomy for Macroembolization in the Extremities. In: Stanley JC, editor. Current Therapy in Vascular and Endovascular Surgery. 5 ed. Philadelphia: Saunders; 2014. p. 638-40., Schneider JR. Extraanatomic Repair of Aortoiliac Occlusive Disease In: Chaikof L, editor. Atlas of Vascular Surgery and Endovascular Therapy. Philadelphia: Saunders; 2014. p. 362-72., Tan TW, et al. The Management of Peripheral Arterial Emboli. In: Cameron JL, editor. Current Surgical Therapy. 11 ed. Philadelphia: Saunders; 2014. p. 903-9., Tapson VF. Overview of the treatment, prognosis, and follow-up of acute pulmonary embolism in adults. Up To Date. March 23 ed: Up To Date; 2016. p. 40.

Reviewed By:  

Deepak Sudheendra MD