A cardiac catheterization— "cath" for short—is a procedure used to diagnose or treat a blood vessel problem in your heart.
The catheter allows your doctor to reach the part of the vessel where there may be a problem.
Cardiac catheterization is always paired with a procedure called angiography. A cardiac cath and angiography may be needed when your doctor wants to:
- Diagnose or evaluate coronary artery disease
- Diagnose or evaluate congenital heart defects
- Diagnose or evaluate problems with the heart valves
- Diagnose causes of heart failure or cardiomyopathy
A cath procedure can also perform repairs, including:
- Repair of certain types of heart defects
- Repair of a stuck (stenotic) heart valve
- Opening of blocked arteries or grafts in the heart
How to Prepare
Your healthcare provider will give you specific instructions about preparing for your catheterization procedure prior to admission to the hospital. Follow the instructions carefully.
Your healthcare provider determines whether you should continue or stop certain medications, if you should avoid eating or drinking in the hours before the procedure and what to expect when you check into the hospital.
Tell your doctor if you:
- Are allergic to seafood
- Have had a bad reaction to contrast material or iodine in the past
- Are taking Viagra
- Might be pregnant
It is important to tell your doctor if you cannot take aspirin or have a history of bleeding problems. Your doctor also needs to know if you are taking any other medications, have drug allergies, or are allergic to any metals or plastics.
What to Expect
Specially trained cath lab nurses and technicians work with your doctor as a team to provide care. They will monitor your condition during the procedure. You will be brought to the Cardiac Catheterization (Cath) Laboratory, a special room in the hospital with testing equipment and staff for the procedure.
An intravenous (IV) line will be started in your arm and you will be given medicine to help you relax and get sleepy. This is called conscious sedation, which means you remain aware of your surroundings and are able to talk to the staff, but you should not feel any pain.
Your healthcare provider will clean, shave and numb the site where catheters will be inserted into your veins. This is typically done in one or both sides of your groin, or your neck in order to access the heart.
During the procedure, a thin, flexible tube called a catheter is inserted into and gently pushed through an artery. The catheter is usually inserted in the groin (upper thigh) area. It can also be inserted in your arm or neck. The catheter allows your doctor to reach the part of the vessel where there may be a problem.
A cardiac catheterization can be used to examine the arteries of the heart. This procedure is called an angiogram. A coronary angiogram shows how blood flows through the heart's coronary arteries, the blood vessels that deliver oxygen and nutrients to the heart muscle. A special kind of dye (x-ray contrast) is injected into the coronary arteries. A specific type of X-ray machine (fluoroscope) rapidly takes a series of images (angiograms). This provides a detailed look at the inside of the arteries.
Cardiac Catheterization Showing Coronary Arteries - Watch the Video [00:09]
Dye injected through the catheter makes the blood vessels show up as dark lines, like roads on a map. A vessel might look narrow on the X-ray or even appear to end abruptly. This means that the dye could not get through because of a blockage. The angiogram can record a complete cycle of blood flow in the heart.
What Happens Next
If a vessel is blocked, your doctor may decide to treat the blockage with an angioplasty and/or a stent implant.
If your doctor decides that a coronary artery bypass graft [CABG] is needed instead of an angioplasty procedure, the surgery may be scheduled on another day.
Recovery from a catheterization procedure is usually quick. Many people are able to resume most of their normal activities 24 hours after the procedure. As the insertion site heals, some people experience bruising and feel a small, hard lump. This is normal and will go away in a few days.
If any of the following are experienced, it is very important to call the healthcare provider.
- Bleeding at the insertion site
- Increased pain
- Any complaint of chest pain
- Shortness of breath
- Feeling cold, have swelling, or numbness on the arm or leg of the insertion site
- The bruising or lump at the insertion site gets larger
- Fever over 100° F
- Return of arrhythmia symptoms
Be sure to talk with your healthcare provider so that you thoroughly understand all of the risks and benefits associated with the catheterization procedure. As you recover from your procedure, you will find that your device may allow you to return to an active lifestyle.