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Cardiac catheterization is a test that uses a catheter and an x-ray machine to check the heart and its blood supply.
Cardiac catheterization is used to find the cause of symptoms, such as chest pain, that could suggest heart problems.
Cardiac catheterization helps doctors:
If you are planning to have cardiac catheterization, your doctor will review a list of possible complications. Complications may include:
Some factors that may increase the risk of complications include:
Your doctor may order:
Talk to your doctor about your medications. You may be asked to stop taking or change the doses of some medications before the procedure.
Leading up to your procedure:
Local anesthesia will be used at the insertion site. A mild sedative may be given 1 hour before the procedure or through an IV during the procedure. This will help you relax.
During the procedure, you will receive IV fluids and medications. An EKG will be monitoring your heart's activity.
You will be awake but sedated so that you will be more relaxed. You will be asked to perform basic functions such as coughing, breathing out, and holding your breath. Tell your doctor if you feel any chest pain, lightheadedness, nausea, tingling, or other discomfort.
The catheter will be inserted into an artery in either the groin or arm. The insertion area will be cleaned, and numbed. A needle will be inserted into a blood vessel. A wire will be passed through the needle and into the blood vessel. The wire will then be guided through until it reaches your heart. A soft, flexible catheter tube will then be slipped over the wire and threaded up to your heart.
X-rays will be taken during the procedure to know where the wire and catheter are. Dye will be injected into the arteries of the heart. This will make the arteries and heart show up on the x-ray images. You may feel warm during the dye injection.
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Once in place, the catheter can be used to take measurements. Blood pressure can be taken within the heart's different chambers. Blood samples may also be taken. Multiple x-ray images will be taken to look for any disease in the arteries. An aortogram may also be done at this time. This step will give a clear image of the aorta. After all the tests and images are complete, the catheter will be removed.
Sometimes, a balloon angioplasty and stenting will be done if there is an area in your arteries that is narrow or clogged. These procedures help to open narrowed arteries.
Finally, a bandage will be placed over the groin or arm area.
The procedure takes about 30-90 minutes. Preparation before the procedure and recovery after it will add several hours to the total time.
Although the procedure is generally not painful, it can cause some discomfort, including:
Pain medication will be given when needed.
When you return home, do the following to help ensure a smooth recovery:
Contact your doctor if your recovery is not progressing as expected or you develop complications such as:
Call for medical help right away if you have symptoms including:
If you think you have an emergency, call for emergency medical services right away.
American Heart Association
National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute
Canadian Cardiovascular Society
Heart and Stroke Foundation
American College of Cardiology Task Force. American College of Cardiology/Society for Cardiac Angiography and Interventions clinical expert consensus document on cardiac catheterization laboratory standards: a report of the American College of Cardiology Task Force on clinical expert consensus documents. J Am Coll Cardiol. 2001 Jun 15;37(8):2170-2214.
Cardiac catheterization. Cleveland Clinic website. Available at: http://my.clevelandclinic.org/heart/services/tests/invasive/ccath.aspx. Updated September 2013. Accessed June 9, 2016.
Explore cardiac catheterization. National Heart Lung and Blood Institute website. Available at: http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/cath. January 30, 2012. Accessed June 9, 2016.
Preparing for cardiac catheterization, angiography, and electrophysiology studies. Cedars Sinai Hospital website. Available at: http://cedars-sinai.edu/Patients/Programs-and-Services/Heart-Institute/Patient-Resources/Preparing-for-Cardiac-Procedures-and-Studies/Preparing-for-Cardiac-Catheterization.aspx. Accessed June 9, 2016.
Last reviewed June 2016 by Michael J. Fucci, DO, FACC Last Updated: 5/11/2013