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Thrombolysis is a medical procedure used to dissolve blood clots in the blood vessels. When thrombolytic therapy is used to treat blood clots in the veins, the procedure is called intravenous thrombolysis. A chemical substance is injected directly into the blood clot during intravenous thrombolysis. This medication is delivered through the use of a catheter. Other forms of thrombolysis treatment, such as pharmacomechanical thrombolysis, utilize a secondary mechanical device to physically break up the blood clot while also using anticoagulants.

Thrombolysis is often performed to prevent or minimize the effects of an impending stroke or heart attack. When left unmonitored, blood clots can grow to be quite large and can be detrimental to blood flow in certain vital blood vessels. Heart attacks can occur when a lack of oxygenized blood causes heart tissue to die. Strokes can occur when a blood clot dislodges itself and moves to the brain, blocking neural circulation and causing serious brain damage. There are several types of thrombolytic therapies available, but the most popular medicine is a tissue plasminogen activator designed to activate plasma in the blood clot and cause solid or coagulated matter to soften or dissolve.

Experts say that receiving thrombolytic therapy, even hours before a heart attack or stroke occurs, could save a patient’s life. Similarly, the aftereffects of heart attacks and stroke can be made significantly less severe if thrombolytic therapy occurred prior to the attacks.  Healthier blood circulation is usually restored after a thrombolysis injection is administered. However, it is important to note that not all damage to tissue surrounding a blood clot can be prevented. Additional medical procedures such as angioplasty or cardiac catheterization may be necessary before or after an attack is predicted to strike in order to increase the chances that the heart attack or stroke will not be fatal.

An electrocardiogram, or ECG, can be used to determine whether thrombolysis is appropriate for someone at risk of a heart attack. ECGs record electric activity of the heart. Family medical history can also be utilized to identify patterns of heart disease or other medical conditions that have chest pain as a primary symptom.  If the patient has recently endured a traumatic head injury, surgery, or bleeding, then he or she will most likely not be eligible for thrombolytic therapy. Pregnant women are also advised to avoid thrombolysis because the chemicals may negatively affect the development of the fetus.

High-risk stroke patients should avoid thrombolyic therapy. To determine if a stroke patient is eligible for thrombolytic therapy, an examination of their medical history and a simple CT scan can be administered to check for uncontrolled bleeding in the brain. If there is any bleeding, such as in the case patients at high risk of hemorrhagic stroke, then thrombolytic therapy should be avoided because the anti-coagulant medication could worsen the bleeding.

If you think you are at risk of heart attack or stroke, contact an emergency medical provider immediately. You should be tested for eligibility for thrombolysis within an hour and a half of your arrival in the emergency room. There is a high risk of hemorrhaging or uncontrolled bleeding with intravenous thrombolysis therapy.  This hemorrhaging typically occurs in the gums and sometimes occurs in the brain.  However, contacting a medical doctor to determine if the benefits of thrombolysis outweigh the risks may save your life.

Contact a doctor on DoctorQA if you have any questions about how a thrombolysis may affect you.

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