What Is Cardiac Catheterization?
Cardiac catheterization (KATH-eh-ter-ih-ZA-shun) is a medical procedure used to diagnose and treat some heart conditions.
A long, thin, flexible tube called a catheter is put into a blood vessel in your arm, groin (upper thigh), or neck and threaded to your heart. Through the catheter, your doctor can do diagnostic tests and treatments on your heart.
For example, your doctor may put a special type of dye in the catheter. The dye will flow through your bloodstream to your heart. Then, your doctor will take x-ray pictures of your heart. The dye will make your coronary (heart) arteries visible on the pictures. This test is called coronary angiography (an-jee-OG-rah-fee).
The dye can show whether a waxy substance called plaque (plak) has built up inside your coronary arteries. Plaque can narrow or block the arteries and restrict blood flow to your heart.
The buildup of plaque in the coronary arteries is called coronary heart disease (CHD) or coronary artery disease.
Doctors also can use ultrasound during cardiac catheterization to see blockages in the coronary arteries. Ultrasound uses sound waves to create detailed pictures of the heart's blood vessels.
Doctors may take samples of blood and heart muscle during cardiac catheterization or do minor heart surgery.
Cardiologists (heart specialists) usually do cardiac catheterization in a hospital. You're awake during the procedure, and it causes little or no pain. However, you may feel some soreness in the blood vessel where the catheter was inserted.
Cardiac catheterization rarely causes serious complications.
What To Expect During Cardiac Catheterization
Cardiac catheterization is done in a hospital. During the procedure, you'll be kept on your back and awake. This allows you to follow your doctor's instructions during the procedure. You'll be given medicine to help you relax, which might make you sleepy.
Your doctor will numb the area on the arm, groin (upper thigh), or neck where the catheter will enter your blood vessel. Then, a needle will be used to make a small hole in the blood vessel. Your doctor will put a tapered tube called a sheath through the hole.
Next, your doctor will put a thin, flexible guide wire through the sheath and into your blood vessel. He or she will thread the wire through your blood vessel to your heart.
Your doctor will use the guide wire to correctly place the catheter. He or she will put the catheter through the sheath and slide it over the guide wire and into the coronary arteries.
Special x-ray movies will be taken of the guide wire and the catheter as they're moved into the heart. The movies will help your doctor see where to put the tip of the catheter.
During the procedure, your doctor may put a special type of dye in the catheter. The dye will flow through your bloodstream to your heart. Then, your doctor will take x-ray pictures of your heart. The dye will make your coronary (heart) arteries visible on the pictures. This test is called coronary angiography.
Coronary angiography can show how well the heart's lower chambers, called the ventricles (VEN-trih-kuls), are pumping blood.
When the catheter is inside your heart, your doctor may use it to take blood and tissue samples or do minor heart surgery.
To get a more detailed view of a blocked coronary artery, your doctor may do intracoronary ultrasound. For this test, your doctor will thread a tiny ultrasound device through the catheter and into the artery. This device gives off sound waves that bounce off the artery wall (and its blockage). The sound waves create a picture of the inside of the artery.
If the angiogram or intracoronary ultrasound shows blockages in the coronary arteries, your doctor may use angioplasty to treat the blocked arteries.
After your doctor does all of the needed tests or treatments, he or she will pull back the catheter and take it out along with the sheath. The opening left in the blood vessel will be closed up and bandaged.
A small weight might be put on top of the bandage for a few hours to apply more pressure. This will help prevent major bleeding from the site.
What To Expect After Cardiac Catheterization
After cardiac catheterization, you will be moved to a special care area. You will rest there for several hours or overnight. During that time, you'll have to limit your movement to avoid bleeding from the site where the catheter was inserted.
While you recover in this area, nurses will check your heart rate and blood pressure regularly. They also will check for bleeding from the catheter insertion site.
A small bruise might form at the catheter insertion site, and the area may feel sore or tender for about a week. Let your doctor know if you have problems such as:
- A constant or large amount of bleeding at the insertion site that can't be stopped with a small bandage
- Unusual pain, swelling, redness, or other signs of infection at or near the insertion site
Talk to your doctor about whether you should avoid certain activities, such as heavy lifting, for a short time after the procedure.