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Atherosclerosis is a disease in which plaque builds up inside your arteries. Plaque is a sticky substance made up of fat, cholesterol, calcium, and other substances found in the blood.

Over time, plaque hardens and narrows your arteries and organs in the body connected to the blocked arteries don't receive sufficient oxygen-rich blood to function properly.

Atherosclerosis can be treated with medicines, diet and lifestyle changes, medical procedures and surgery.

Below are descriptions of the atherectomy procedures performed at UC San Diego Health to treat atherosclerosis. Also see Angioplasty with Stent Placement and Coronary Artery Stenting and Bypass Graft.

Rotational Atherectomy

A rotational atherectomy is a type of interventional coronary procedure to help open coronary arteries blocked with calcified material and restore blood flow to the heart. This procedure utilizes a high-speed rotational "burr" that is coated with microscopic diamond particles.

It rotates at high speed (approximately 200,000 rpm), breaking up blockages into very small fragments (smaller than red blood cells), which can pass harmlessly into the blood circulation. Angioplasty and stenting are often performed after rotational atherectomy to improve the results.

Extraction Atherectomy

Extraction atherectomy is a procedure done to open a partially blocked blood vessel to the heart so that blood can flow through it more easily. The procedure removes fat and calcium buildup (atherosclerosis) in the heart's arteries.

During the procedure, a thin flexible tube (a catheter) is inserted through an artery in the groin or arm and carefully guided into the coronary artery that is narrowed. Once the tube reaches the narrowed portion of the artery, a cutting device, whirling blade (such as rotational atherectomy) or a laser beam can be used to remove the cholesterol and calcium buildup from the artery wall. 

Image-Guided Catheter 

Atherectomy was recently made even safer and more effective with a new, high-tech catheter that allows cardiologists to see inside the arteries for the first time, cutting out only the diseased tissue. Interventional cardiologists at UC San Diego Health are the first in the region to use this technology. 

The new image-guided device, Avinger’s Pantheris™ Lumivascular atherectomy system, has a camera the size of a grain of salt that allows doctors to see and remove plaque simultaneously during an atherectomy.

The new technology treats patients suffering from the painful symptoms of peripheral artery disease (PAD), a condition caused by a build-up of plaque that blocks blood flow in the arteries of the legs and feet, preventing oxygen-rich blood from reaching the extremities. 

New Approach to Remove Blood Clots

Atherosclerosis makes people more prone to blood clots when pieces of the fatty deposits break off and enter the bloodstream. At UC San Diego Health, doctors use a novel vacuum technology to remove blood clots without the need for open-heart surgery.



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