What is Cardiac Catheterization?
If you have heart-related symptoms or your physician suspects a heart problem based on signs, risk factors or tests, your doctor might need to take a look inside your heart with a procedure called cardiac catheterization. Also known as heart catheterization, this procedure allows specialists to diagnose and treat certain heart problems using a hollow tube called a catheter.
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How Does Cardiac Catheterization Work?
Your physician will make a small puncture, likely in your groin, and insert a catheter into a blood vessel. The physician maneuvers the catheter through your blood vessel and into your heart using X-ray guidance.
Cardiac catheterization is a versatile procedure. With the catheter in position, your physician can inject dye to observe how it flows through the heart, a procedure called a coronary angiography. If an artery is blocked, the physician can inflate a small balloon to reopen it and insert a mesh tube called a stent to keep the vessel open. This procedure is called a coronary angioplasty.
Cardiac catheterization also allows physicians to:
- check blood pressure in the heart
- find structural defects
- learn about the heart’s pumping ability
- take blood and tissue samples
Your physician may want to do a cardiac catheterization if you have certain symptoms, such as chest pain or an irregular heartbeat. This can also help your physician confirm and better understand the results of a cardiac imaging test. Cardiac catheterization can also help physicians diagnose:
- aortic stenosis, mitral regurgitation and other heart valve problems
- congenital heart defects
- coronary artery disease
- pulmonary hypertension
Cardiac catheterization does not require much preparation, although you may have to avoid eating or drinking for up to eight hours before your procedure. Your physician will provide instructions for how to prepare for your procedure. Follow them closely.
At the hospital, you will receive an intravenous sedative to keep you calm but awake during the procedure in the cardiac catheterization lab. A nurse will clean and shave the place where the physician will insert the catheter, usually your groin. You should not hurt or feel any pain because the insertion site will be numbed.
Cardiac catheterizations typically take about an hour. Afterward, you will rest in the hospital for several hours so the medical team can monitor your heart and make sure the puncture site stops bleeding.
Make sure you have someone drive you home, because you will be released the same day with instructions on when you can resume normal activities and how to care for the puncture if it starts to bleed. You may be able to return to your regular routine the day after your procedure.