Thumbnail image of: Heart Catheterization: Illustration

Heart Catheterization

What is heart catheterization?

Heart catheterization is a test that uses dye that shows up on X-rays to look at your heart in detail. This test is also called cardiac catheterization.

When is it used?

Heart catheterization helps your healthcare provider diagnose and treat heart problems. Heart catheterization may be used to:

  • Take X-ray pictures of your heart and the blood vessels that bring blood to your heart muscle. Your healthcare provider can then see if an artery is blocked and how much is blocked. The test results can help your provider see if you need treatment to widen an artery, remove a blockage, or bypass an artery.
  • Look for signs that show how healthy your heart and lungs are, such as:
    • Measure the blood pressure in the blood vessels in your lungs and heart and in the chambers of your heart.
    • Check how well your heart valves open and close.
    • Measure blood flow and the amount of oxygen in your blood in different parts of your heart.
    • Measure how well your heart is pumping blood to your body.
  • Take a tissue sample (biopsy) of the heart muscle using a tool passed through the catheter.
  • Remove fatty deposits called plaque that can build up in blood vessels and decrease the amount of blood flow to your heart.
  • Place a metal mesh device called a stent in a blocked or narrow blood vessel to keep it open.

A child born with a heart problem may need to have catheterization to diagnose a defect and help your healthcare provider decide on treatment.

How do I prepare for this procedure?

  • Plan for your care and a ride home after the procedure.
  • You may or may not need to take your regular medicines the day of the procedure. Some medicines (like aspirin) may increase your risk of bleeding during or after the procedure. Tell your healthcare provider about all medicines and supplements that you take. Ask your provider if you need to avoid taking any medicine or supplements before the procedure.
  • Tell your healthcare provider if you have any food or medicine allergies. Tell your provider if you have had kidney problems or an allergy to chemicals, such as contrast dye. Contrast dye is used for some scans.
  • Your healthcare provider will tell you when to stop eating and drinking before the procedure. This helps to keep you from vomiting during the procedure.
  • Follow your provider’s instructions about not smoking before and after the procedure. Smokers may have more breathing problems during the procedure and heal more slowly. It’s best to quit 6 to 8 weeks before surgery.
  • Follow any other instructions your healthcare provider gives you.
  • Ask any questions you have before the procedure. You should understand what your healthcare provider is going to do. You have the right to make decisions about your healthcare and to give permission for any tests or procedures.

What happens during the procedure?

This test is usually done at the hospital.

Before the test you will be given medicine to help you relax, but you will be awake during the test. You will be given a local anesthetic to numb the area where the catheter will be inserted. You may also be given medicine to help prevent blood clots.

Your healthcare provider will put a small tube called a catheter through your skin and into a blood vessel in your groin, arm, or neck. Tools may be passed through the catheter to take measurements or do other planned procedures, such as a biopsy. Dye may be put into the artery and you may feel a warm or hot flush spreading over your body for a few seconds when the dye is given. X-rays will be taken as the dye moves through your blood vessels. The X-rays will show if there is a blockage, narrowing, or deformity of the blood vessels in your heart.

At the end of the test, your healthcare provider will remove the catheter and put pressure on the area where the catheter was inserted (the puncture site) to control any bleeding.

The test usually takes about an hour.

What happens after the procedure?

After the procedure you may stay in a recovery area for at least a few hours or overnight, depending on what was done during the procedure. The puncture site may be bruised and sore for a few days.

Ask your healthcare provider:

  • How and when you will hear your test results
  • How long it will take to recover
  • What activities you should avoid and when you can return to your normal activities
  • How to take care of yourself at home
  • What symptoms or problems you should watch for and what to do if you have them

Make sure you know when you should come back for a checkup.

What are the risks of this procedure?

Every procedure or treatment has risks. Some possible risks of this procedure include:

  • You may have problems with anesthesia.
  • You may have infection, bleeding, or blood clots. Other parts of your body may be injured during the procedure.
  • You may have an allergic reaction to the dye.
  • The test can cause irregular heart rhythms, which might need treatment.
  • While not common, a heart attack or stroke might be triggered by the test.

Ask your healthcare provider how these risks apply to you. Be sure to discuss any other questions or concerns that you may have.

Developed by RelayHealth.
Adult Advisor 2015.1 published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2014-05-01
Last reviewed: 2014-04-13
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
Copyright ©1986-2015 McKesson Corporation and/or one of its subsidiaries. All rights reserved.

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