Cardiac Catheterization

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.

  • Infection.

  • 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.

  • Kidney failure.

  • 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.

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