Find out more about this minimally invasive procedure that can diagnose and treat heart problems, including what's involved in the test and the risks.
Cardiac catheterization (kath-uh-tur-ih-ZAY-shun) is a procedure in which a thin, flexible tube (catheter) is guided through a blood vessel to the heart to diagnose or treat certain heart conditions, such as clogged arteries or irregular heartbeats. Cardiac catheterization gives doctors important information about the heart muscle, heart valves and blood vessels in the heart.
During cardiac catheterization, doctors can do different heart tests, deliver treatments, or remove a piece of heart tissue for examination. Some heart disease treatments — such as coronary angioplasty and coronary stenting — are done using cardiac catheterization.
Usually, you'll be awake during cardiac catheterization but be given medications to help you relax. Recovery time for a cardiac catheterization is quick, and there's a low risk of complications.
Cardiac catheterization is a common procedure done to diagnose or treat a variety of heart problems. For example, your doctor may recommend this procedure if you have irregular heartbeats (arrhythmias), chest pain (angina) or heart valve problems, among other things.
Cardiac catheterization may be done during the diagnosis or treatment of:
During a cardiac catheterization, a doctor can:
Cardiac catherization may be done at the same time as other heart procedures, such as:
As with most procedures done on the heart and blood vessels, cardiac catheterization has some risks. Major complications are rare, though.
Possible risks of cardiac catheterization are:
If you are pregnant or planning to become pregnant, tell your doctor before having a cardiac catheterization.
If your doctor recommended a cardiac catheterization, you'll need to follow some steps to prepare for the procedure.
Before a cardiac catheterization, you will likely have your blood pressure and pulse checked. You may be asked to use the toilet to empty your bladder.
You may be asked to remove dentures and any jewelry, especially necklaces that could interfere with pictures of the heart.
Sticky patches (electrodes) will be placed on your chest to monitor your heartbeat before, during and after the procedure.
A nurse or technician may shave the hair from the site where the catheter will be inserted.
Cardiac catheterization is usually done in the hospital in a room with special X-ray and imaging machines. Like an operating room, the cardiac catheterization lab is a sterile area.
A specialist will insert an IV into your forearm or hand and give you a medication called a sedative to help you relax. The amount of sedation needed for the procedure depends on your health conditions and why you're having the procedure. You may be fully awake or lightly sedated, or you may be given general anesthesia (fully asleep).
During cardiac catheterization, one or more catheters are passed through a blood vessel in the groin, wrist or neck, depending on the reason for the procedure, and guided to the heart.
The area where the catheter will be inserted is numbed, and then a small cut is made to access the blood vessel. A plastic sheath is passed into this opening to allow your doctor to insert the catheter.
What happens next depends on why you're having a cardiac catheterization. These are some of the common uses for cardiac catheterization:
Balloon angioplasty, with or without stenting. This procedure is used to open a narrowed artery in or near the heart. The catheter can be inserted in either the wrist or groin for this procedure.
The catheter is guided to the narrowed artery. Then, a smaller balloon catheter is inserted through the flexible catheter and inflated at the narrowed area to open it. Often, the doctor will also place a mesh coil called a stent at the narrowed part to help keep the artery open.
If you're awake during a cardiac catherization procedure, you may be asked to take deep breaths, hold your breath, cough or place your arms in various positions throughout the procedure. The table may be tilted at times, but you'll have a safety strap on to keep you on the table.
Threading the catheter shouldn't be painful, and you shouldn't feel it moving through your body. Tell your doctor or nurse if you have any discomfort.
You'll likely spend several hours in a recovery room after the procedure while the sedation wears off.
After you leave the recovery room, you'll usually be moved to a regular hospital or outpatient room. After your catheter is removed, a technician or nurse will apply pressure to the insertion sites. If the catheter was placed in the groin area, you may need to lie flat for several hours after the procedure to avoid serious bleeding and to allow the artery to heal.
How long you need to stay in the hospital depends on your overall health and the reason for the catheterization.
The area where the catheter was inserted may feel sore for a few days. Tell your doctor if you have any bleeding or new or increased swelling or pain at or near the access site.
If cardiac catheterization was done to diagnose a heart condition, your doctor should explain the results to you.
If your doctor finds a blockage during cardiac catheterization, he or she may treat the blockage with or without a stent placement right away so that you won't need to have another catheterization procedure. Your doctor should discuss whether this is a possibility before the procedure begins.