Cardiac catheterization is a medical procedure for diagnosing and treating certain heart conditions and diseases. It is typically performed on an inpatient basis by cardiac specialists. Baptist Health is a leading provider of cardiac-catheterization services in Kentucky and Southern Indiana.
What Is a Heart Catheterization Procedure?
Cardiac or heart catheterization (“cardiac cath” for short) is an invasive medical procedure used to diagnose and address certain types of heart ailments and conditions. The procedure involves the insertion of a long, narrow tube called a catheter into the heart by means of a major blood vessel. The insertion is commonly made in the leg near the groin but can occur at other locations on the body as well.
Attached to the tube’s leading tip are a variety of extremely small instruments that can be used to collect data on the heart’s structure, function, and performance. Contrast dyes for use with X-rays can also be introduced through the catheter. The primary purpose of a cardiac catheterization is to provide your physician and the other members of your medical team with the information they need to more effectively assess your cardiovascular health and to diagnose any potential problems. In some cases, the catheter itself will be used to perform a corrective procedure.
What is a Cardiac Catheterization Done for?
Cardiac catheterization is a multi-use medical technology. Depending on the instrument package, your physician can:
- Locate blocked or constricted vessels that are interfering with proper blood circulation
- Assess the effectiveness of the heart’s pumping function
- Measure blood oxygen and pressure levels inside the heart
- Investigate possible heart defects
- Inspect the condition of valves
- Collect tissue samples
In addition to diagnostic functions, there are several medical procedures that can be performed via cardiac catheterization:
- Angioplasty: The insertion of a small balloon to open blocked vessels and passages, sometimes involving the placement of a stent to maintain the improved blood flow.
- Heart valve repair and replacement: The insertion of plugs, clips, or new valves to enhance the performance of a critical component of the heart’s architecture.
- Balloon valvuloplasty: Similar to angioplasty, this procedure uses balloon insertions to open constricted heart valves.
- Heart hole closures: The repair of a structural defect through placement of a plug.
- Ablation for heart arrhythmia: The pinpoint application of heat or cold inside the heart to alter the electrical signals associated with a rhythmic disorder.
- Ablation for thickened heart muscles: The injection of alcohol into abnormally thick heart muscles to reduce them to a healthier size.
- Blood clot prevention: Sealing off parts of the heart that are unusually susceptible to the development of blood clots.
The most common catheterization procedure is the coronary angiogram. To perform an angiogram, your medical team inserts a dye into your heart through the catheter. This dye is recorded as it moves through the heart in a series of X-ray images, called angiograms, that can provide evidence of potential blockages and other forms of constricted blood flow. Coronary angiograms are often utilized in combination with angioplasty during a single catheterization procedure.
Cardiac Catheterization Risks
Like all invasive procedures, cardiac catheterization comes with risks. Most of these are minor (e.g., a bruise at the catheter-insertion site or a mild allergic reaction, usually stomach upset, to the X-ray dye of an angiogram). A few patients experience more serious side effects, including heart attacks, strokes, infections, or kidney damage. The great majority of catheterization procedures are safe and effective.
How to Prepare for a Heart Catheterization Procedure
Cardiac catheterizations require some preparation beforehand. Here are steps you’re likely to take:
- Your physician will provide you with guidance on getting ready for the procedure.
- Be sure to follow his or her instructions.
- You won’t be allowed to eat or drink anything for six to eight hours beforehand.
- Tell your physician about any drugs or medications that you’re taking.
- He or she may ask you to go off them for a period of time prior to the procedure.
- Be sure to communicate any allergies you have, especially to latex, iodine, shellfish, or penicillin and related drugs.
- Bring eyeglasses and hearing aids to the hospital, if you need them, but you may not be able to wear them while undergoing catheterization.
- Do your best to relax beforehand.
- Arrange to have someone drive you home after discharge from the medical facility.
What to Expect During Cardiac Catheterization
Most cardiac catheterizations are performed in a hospital. Here’s what you can expect once you’ve arrived onsite and are registered for the procedure.
What Happens Before a Cardiac Catheterization Procedure
A member of the medical staff will check your pulse and blood pressure. You’ll be asked to remove any jewelry and dentures (if you have them). You’ll wait to start your procedure in a pre-operating room. A friend or family member can sit with you.
What to Expect During the Procedure Catheterizations are typically performed in a specially equipped operating room with X-ray and imaging technology. On arrival, you’ll have an IV line attached to your arm for the delivery of a sedative, and electrodes placed on your chest to monitor heart activity during catheterization. Depending on what the medical team hopes to accomplish, you may be awake throughout the procedure.
A nurse or medical technician will numb a spot on your body, usually somewhere on the leg, for insertion of a plastic sheath. The catheter will enter a major blood vessel through the sheath. Your physician will use the X-ray machine to guide the catheter to your heart. The catheter’s movement should be painless. If you feel pain or discomfort, let the medical staff know. While this takes place, you may be asked to change your breathing or bodily position. A typical procedure runs about 30 minutes, but may take longer based on the number of tasks the medical staff wishes to complete.
Recovery from a catheterization procedure can take several hours. You’ll go from the operating room to a recovery area, where the sedative will wear off and the plastic sheath will be removed from the insertion point. Dressings and pressure will be applied to limit bleeding and protect the incision from infection. After an hour or so, you’ll move to a regular hospital room. You’ll be allowed to eat and drink. Your length of stay before going home will depend on your health status and the duration and complexity of your procedure.
Cardiac Catheterization Test Results
Catheterization is chiefly a diagnostic tool, so you’ll want to have your physician explain the test results generated by your procedure. He or she can explain any insights gained regarding your health status, and the need for follow-up medical care, including additional invasive procedures.
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