The AngioVac can suck blood clots out of the body

A new device has been used to suck blood clots out of patients’ bodies, removing the need for invasive, high-risk surgery or blood transfusions.

When a blood clot breaks away from a blood vessel wall and lodges in the lungs or heart, it can be fatal: over 32,000 people in the UK die every year as a result. While some clots can be successfully dissolved by medication, it commonly requires open heart surgery. This usually involves surgeons cutting open the breastbone to repair the heart and using wires to hold the chest and ribs back in place. The surgery is risky and recovery can be lengthy, with some patients needing blood transfusions.

But the AngioVac system provides a much safer and speedier treatment option. It consists of two flexible tubes, each with an expandable funnel tip. With the help of an X-ray machine, doctors guide one tube down the oesophagus and attach it to the clot, then thread the other through the groin and connect it to a powerful heart bypass machine to create suction. When the machine is turned on, it vacuums the blood clot out of the body. The system can even send back cleansed blood through the same vein, eliminating the need for a blood transfusion.

It was developed by medical devices company AngioDynamics, and has been used recently on six patients in San Diego. The procedure can be completed in just an hour and people can usually leave hospital happy and clot-free the next day.

Diane Shipley