Atherectomy for Coronary Artery Disease

What is atherectomy?

Atherectomy is a procedure done during an angioplasty. A doctor uses special tools to remove the plaque buildup from the artery wall.

Atherectomy is not done for most people who have angioplasty. But in certain cases, it might help your doctor open up a narrowed artery.

Why is it done?

It might be done if an artery has hard plaque with a lot of calcium. Atherectomy may make it easier for your doctor to place a stent in the artery. A stent can help keep the artery from narrowing again.footnote 1, footnote 2

What are the risks?

Risks of atherectomy include:

  • Heart attack during the procedure.
  • Closing off of the artery, which requires emergency bypass surgery.
  • Bleeding.
  • Heart rhythm problems.

Another risk is that small pieces of plaque that are cut off during atherectomy can lodge in smaller arteries and damage heart tissue.


  1. Levine GN, et al. (2011). 2011 ACC/AHA/SCAI Guideline for percutaneous coronary intervention: A report of the American College of Cardiology Foundation/American Heart Association Task Force on Practice Guidelines and the Society for Cardiovascular Angiography and Interventions. Circulation, 124(23): e574–e651.
  2. Douglas JS, King SB (2011). Percutaneous coronary intervention. In V Fuster et al., eds., Hurst's The Heart, 13th ed., vol. 2, pp. 1430–1457. New York: McGraw-Hill.

ByHealthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer Rakesh K. Pai, MD, FACC - Cardiology, Electrophysiology
E. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal Medicine
Martin J. Gabica, MD - Family Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer Robert A. Kloner, MD, PhD - Cardiology

Current as ofJanuary 27, 2016