Thrombectomy and embolectomy are procedures used to treat two different types of blood clots from blood vessels.

A thrombectomy is surgery to remove a stationary blood clot from one of your arteries or veins. A blood clot is medically known as a “thrombus.”

An embolectomy is the removal of an embolus. An embolus is a blood clot or other substance like air or fat that moves through your bloodstream and causes a blockage in an artery.

The two types of blood clots are often present at the same time. For instance, an embolus can come from the heart and then get stuck in a blood vessel as it narrows. Afterward, a new thrombus can form at the end of the embolus. Alternatively, a thrombus can form in a blood vessel, and then pieces of it can break off and travel elsewhere, which would be called an embolus.

Doctors and researchers often refer to both procedures as a thrombectomy or a thromboembolectomy to include both types of blood clots.

In this article, we specifically compare a thrombectomy used to treat deep vein thrombosis to an embolectomy used to remove a blood clot from your lung or brain.

The goal of a thrombectomy or embolectomy is to relieve a blockage in one of your blood vessels that a blood clot or other substance causes.

You may need a thrombectomy or embolectomy if you have a:

These procedures may also be used to treat deep vein thrombosis, where a blood clot develops in a deep vein that’s often in your lower body.

The procedure or devices used to treat both types of clots are often the same. The distinction between thrombus and embolus is where the clot originated. The procedure to remove the clot is not determined by the type of clot but by where the clot’s location in the body.

Here’s a look at the potential risks and complications.

Thrombectomy risks

Potential risks of a thrombectomy used to treat deep vein thrombosis include:

  • formation of another blood clot
  • bruising near catheter insertion
  • blood vessel perforation
  • reaction to contrast dye
  • narrowing in treated blood vessel
  • dislodging of the blood clot

Embolectomy risks

An embolectomy can be lifesaving when used to treat a pulmonary embolism or a stroke. However, treating these areas can come with additional risks, including:

  • life threatening bleeding on the brain or lungs
  • brain swelling
  • permanent disability
  • death from the effects of the embolism

In a 2021 study, researchers reviewed the data of a little over 4,000 people provided by the Endovascular Treatment in Ischemic Stroke Registry in France. Their findings indicated that complications occurred in 7.99% of embolectomies used to treat stroke from 2015–2020.

Here’s a look at the effectiveness of thrombectomy and embolectomy.

Embolectomy effectiveness

Per the United Kingdom’s National Health Service (NHS), about 4 out of 10 people who receive an embolectomy after a stroke recover with less disability than people who don’t receive a thrombectomy.

In a small 2023 study, researchers found that thrombectomy was considered safe for treating pulmonary embolism with right-side heart overload. There were no major complications and all 29 people involved in the study lived.

Thrombectomy effectiveness

In a 2023 study, researchers examined the effectiveness of thrombectomy for treating lower body deep vein thrombosis in 500 people. Within 30 days, only 0.9% of people died, and 8.6% had serious complications.

The researchers concluded that thrombectomy is safe and significantly improves symptoms and health for 6 months.

A thrombectomy or embolectomy usually takes roughly 1–3 hours, according to the NHS. Here’s a general idea of what you can expect.

  1. You’ll be given an anesthetic to numb the area where you’ll have an incision to access a blood vessel. This incision is usually made in your groin. You may also be given sedatives through an IV.
  2. A thin tube called a catheter is inserted into your blood vessel. A dye is injected into the catheter to enable healthcare professionals to see your blood vessels on an X-ray.
  3. They’ll insert a special device into the catheter and push it through your bloodstream until it reaches the site of the blockage.
  4. The tool will be used to remove the blockage with suction. Sometimes a stent may be placed to keep the blood vessel open.
  5. The surgical tools will be removed, and your incision site will be closed with stitches or bandages.

Embolectomy and thrombectomy are usually administered as an emergency surgery. For this reason, preparation usually isn’t required.

If your surgery is planned, your doctor may tell you to stop taking certain medications like blood thinners. It’s also important to alert them of any herbal supplements you’re taking or any known allergies.

Here’s a look at the recovery times for thrombectomy and embolectomy procedures.

Thrombectomy recovery

You’ll likely need to stay in the hospital for several hours after a thrombectomy to treat deep vein thrombosis. In some cases, you may need to stay in the hospital overnight.

Embolectomy recovery

Recovery from an embolectomy depends on why you need the procedure. After a pulmonary embolism, it can take up to months to return to usual activity.

Learn more about recovering from a pulmonary embolism.

People who develop a stroke may have permanent disability. Some people continue to see improvements in their symptoms for years.

Learn more about recovering from a stroke.

The nonprofit FAIR Health estimates that 80% of thrombectomy or embolectomy procedures cost less than $2,389 in New York City without insurance. They estimate that 80% of procedures in Little Rock, Arkansas, are less than $411.

Various factors, such as location and whether you have insurance can contribute to procedure costs.

For specific cost information, it’s important that you speak with your healthcare professional, medical facility, or your insurance plan if you have coverage.

Other treatments for blood clots include blood-thinning medications and medications to dissolve the blood clot.

Here are some frequently asked questions people have about thrombectomy and embolectomy.

What is the difference between a thrombus and an embolus?

A thrombus is a stationary blood clot inside a blood vessel. An embolus is a blood clot or other substance that moves through your bloodstream and blocks an artery.

Is a thrombectomy considered major surgery?

A thrombectomy can often be performed minimally invasively. It can often be done without the need for general anesthesia.

A thrombectomy treats a stationary blood clot. An embolectomy treats a blood clot or other substance that has moved through your bloodstream and caused a blockage.

Many healthcare professionals refer to an embolectomy as a thrombectomy. The two terms are often interchangeable and sometimes referred to as thromboembolectomy.