Atherectomy: A procedure for opening up an artery by removing the plaque (atheroma) produced by the build-up of cholesterol and other fatty substances in the inner lining of the artery from atherosclerosis ("hardening of the arteries"). Atherectomy is done most often in major arteries -- such as the coronary arteries within the heart muscle and the carotid and vertebral arteries leading up to the head and brain -- that have experienced the occlusive effects of atherosclerosis.
Atherectomy can be done by various means, including a conventional surgical incision to open up the vessel or a catheter inserted into the artery the same way as in angioplasty. The catheter may have a laser that vaporizes the plaque, a rotating shaver (a "burr" device) on the end of the catheter, or a dissectional device that shaves off the plaque. Balloon angioplasty or stenting may then be done after the atherectomy.
In the US, atherectomy is also called the "Rotorooter" procedure (after the name of a company that reams out drainage pipes).