Thrombolytic therapy, also called thrombolysis, is the use of drugs to break up or dissolve blood clots. If the clot forms in an artery that supplies blood to the heart, it can cause a heart attack. A clot that cuts off blood to the brain can cause a stroke. The most commonly used drug for thrombolytic therapy is tissue plasminogen activator (tPA).

According to the American Heart Association, you have a better chance of surviving and recovering from a heart attack if you receive a thrombolytic drug within 12 hours after the heart attack starts. Whenever possible, you should receive thrombolytic medications within the first 30 minutes after arriving at the hospital.

What thrombolytic therapy treats

In addition to using thrombolytic therapy for an ischemic stroke or heart attack, it can also be used to treat clots in:

  • Pulmonary embolism (in the lung)
  • Deep vein thrombosis (DVT)
  • A blocked bypass graft or dialysis catheter
  • A blocked artery in a limb

Why choose Ohio State for thrombolytic therapy?

Because The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center is on the leading edge of technology and protocol for heart attack care, we frequently receive emergency referrals. Our heart attack care team's expertise allows us to provide traditional thrombolytic therapy as well as lead innovations in development of half-dose therapy protocols.

What to expect during thrombolytic therapy

Preparing for your therapy

Thrombolytic therapy is usually given in the event of an emergency, and therefore there isn’t any preparation for it. However, you usually undergo a test called an angiography either before or as part of thrombolytic therapy. Angiography creates a picture of your blood vessels called a CT angiogram.

During your therapy

During this treatment, your physician injects clot-dissolving medications (sometimes called “clot busters”) into a blood vessel. In some cases, the medications flow through your bloodstream to the clot. In other cases, your physician guides a catheter (a long, thin tube), through your blood vessels to the area of the clot. The catheter then delivers medications or mechanically breaks up the clot.

After your therapy

During your stay in the hospital, your physician and the nursing staff closely watch you for any complications. You may receive fluids, antibiotics or painkillers. If your physician inserted the catheter through an artery in your arm or leg, you may have to keep the limb straight for several hours. Once any bleeding from the access site stops, and your vital signs are normal, you may be discharged.

Before your discharge, your physician will give you instructions about everyday tasks to follow after you return home.

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