Cardiac catheterization (kath-uh-tur-ih-ZAY-shun) is a procedure used to diagnose and treat cardiovascular conditions. During cardiac catheterization, a long thin tube called a catheter is inserted in an artery or vein in your groin, neck or arm and threaded through your blood vessels to your heart. Using this catheter, doctors can then do diagnostic tests as part of a cardiac catheterization. Some heart disease treatments, such as coronary angioplasty, also are done using cardiac catheterization.
Usually, you'll be awake during cardiac catheterization, but given medications to help you relax. Recovery time for a cardiac catheterization is quick, and there's a low risk of complications.
Why it's done
Cardiac catheterization is done to see if you have a heart problem, or as a part of a procedure to correct a heart problem your doctor already knows about.
If you're having cardiac catheterization as a test for heart disease, your doctor can:
Cardiac catheterization is also used as part of some procedures to treat heart disease. These procedures include:
As with most procedures done on your heart and blood vessels, cardiac catheterization has some risks. Major complications are rare, though.
Risks of cardiac catheterization are:
If you are either pregnant or planning to become pregnant, tell your doctor before having cardiac catheterization performed.
How you prepare
Cardiac catheterization is usually performed in the hospital. The test requires some preparations. To prepare for your test:
Once you have checked in for your catheterization, you'll have your blood pressure and pulse checked. You'll be asked to use the toilet to empty your bladder. You'll be asked to remove dentures and may need to remove jewelry, especially necklaces that could interfere with pictures of your heart. You'll wait in a pre-operating room until it's time for your procedure — you can often have someone wait there with you.
What you can expect
During the procedure
Cardiac catheterization is usually performed while you're awake, but sedated. An intravenous (IV) line will be inserted in your hand or arm, and will be used to give you any additional medications you might need during your procedure. You will also have monitors (electrodes) placed on your chest to check your heartbeat during the test.
Just before the procedure, a nurse or technician may shave the hair from the site where the catheter will be inserted. Before the catheter is inserted in your artery, you'll be given a shot of anesthetic to numb the area. You may feel a quick, stinging pain before the numbness sets in.
After you feel numb, the catheter will be inserted. A small cut is made, usually in your leg, to access an artery. A plastic sheath will be inserted in the cut to allow your doctor to insert the catheter.
What happens next depends on why you're having a cardiac catheterization:
Although you'll be sedated, you'll be awake during the procedure so that you can follow instructions. Throughout the procedure you may be asked to take deep breaths, hold your breath, cough or place your arms in various positions. Your table may be tilted at times.
Threading the catheter shouldn't be painful, and you won't feel it moving through your body. Tell your health care team if you have any discomfort.
After the procedure
After you leave the recovery room, you'll go to a regular hospital or outpatient room. After your catheter is removed, the technician or nurse who has removed your sheath will apply pressure to the insertion sites. You'll need to lie flat for one to six hours after the procedure to avoid serious bleeding and to allow the artery to heal.
You'll be able to eat and drink after the procedure. The length of your stay in the hospital will depend on your condition. You may be able to go home the same day as your catheterization, or you may need to stay overnight or longer. Longer stays are common if you have a more serious procedure immediately after your catheterization, such as angioplasty and stent placement.
If you're having cardiac catheterization as a test, your doctor should explain the results to you. Your results may show that you need surgery or another treatment to correct a heart problem.
If you've had a coronary angiogram, your results could indicate that you need angioplasty or a stent, or a more major open-heart surgery called coronary bypass surgery. In some cases, your angiogram may show that angioplasty would likely be an effective treatment to open a narrowed artery. If your doctor finds this, he or she may perform angioplasty with or without a stent placement right away so that you won't need to have another cardiac catheterization. Your doctor should discuss whether this is a possibility before the procedure begins.
Last Updated: 2010-11-19
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