Posted October 2, 2022 by Anusha ‐ 4 min read
During a cardiac catheterization, your healthcare provider puts a long, narrow tube (catheter) into a blood vessel in your leg or arm and moves it to your coronary arteries. This low-risk, diagnostic procedure can tell your provider how well your heart is working and what kind of treatment you may need.
What is Cardiac Catheterization?
Cardiac catheterization (also called cardiac cath or coronary angiogram) is an invasive imaging procedure that allows your healthcare provider to evaluate your heart function.
Your provider puts a catheter (tiny tube) into a blood vessel in your arm or groin and then into your coronary arteries.
Providers can use a heart catheterization to find problems and use other procedures to fix them, sometimes during the same appointment.
For example, your provider could fix a heart flaw you were born with or replace your heart valve without making a large incision and doing traditional surgery.
Uses of Cardiac catheterization
Cardiac catheterization is used to:
- Find out why you’re having chest pain or an abnormal heart rhythm.
- Take a tiny bit of muscle from your heart to examine (biopsy).
- Evaluate or confirm the presence of coronary artery disease, valve disease or disease of the aorta. Your provider may do this as a scheduled procedure or shortly after a heart attack.
- Evaluate heart muscle function.
- Check your pulmonary arteries for issues.
- Check on your blood flow, oxygen level and pressure in areas of your heart.
- Get more information that other tests couldn’t provide.
- Determine the need for further treatment (such as an interventional procedure or coronary artery bypass graft, or CABG, surgery).
- Place a stent to open a blockage in an artery.
- Diagnose cardiomyopathy, aortic stenosis, mitral valve regurgitation or pulmonary hypertension (high blood pressure in your lungs).
- Help with planning a heart transplant.
Procedure of Cardiac Catheterization
Your provider will inject a numbing medicine underneath your skin with a small needle.
They’ll insert a plastic introducer sheath (a short, hollow tube through which they place the catheter) in a blood vessel in your arm, neck or groin.
Then they’ll insert a catheter through the sheath and thread it to your heart’s arteries.
You may feel pressure when your provider puts in the introducer sheath or catheter, but you shouldn’t feel pain.
Tell your provider if you do.
To help position the catheter, your provider may ask you to turn your head or take a deep breath and hold it for a few seconds.
When the catheter is in place, your provider will dim the lights and inject a small amount of contrast material through the catheters into your arteries and heart chambers.
The contrast material outlines the vessels, valves and chambers.
When the contrast material goes into your heart, you may feel hot or flushed for several seconds.
This is normal and will go away in a few seconds.
Your provider will use an X-ray camera to take photographs of your arteries and heart chambers while the contrast is flowing through them.
You may need to hold your breath while your provider takes the X-rays.
When all the photos are done, your provider will remove the catheter and turn the lights on.
The sheath has to be removed very carefully because pulling it out incorrectly can cause you to bleed.
Your provider will ask you to keep as still as you can while they remove the sheath.
Recovery of Cardiac Catheterization
You’ll need to drink plenty of liquids to clear the contrast material from your body.
You may feel the need to pee more frequently which is normal, if you’re on bed rest, you’ll need to use a bedpan or urinal.
Your provider will tell you if you’re able to return home or will need to stay overnight.
In either case, they’ll monitor you for several hours after the procedure.
Before you go home, they’ll talk with you about your treatment, including medications, diet and future procedures. They’ll also talk about caring for your wound site, activity and follow-up care.
Risks of Cardiac Catheterization
Allergic reaction to the medication or contrast material you received during the procedure.
Irregular heart rhythm.
Low blood pressure.
Bleeding at the catheter insertion site.
A collapsed lung (pneumothorax).
Continued chest pain or angina.
Mild to moderate skin reactions (like a sunburn) from X-ray exposure.
Cardiac tamponade (fluid buildup around your heart).
Heart attack, blood clots, stroke or death.
Damage to a coronary artery.
Emergency coronary artery bypass graft (CABG) surgery.
Damage to blood vessels which may require emergency surgery.