Understanding Cardiac Catheterization

Cardiac catheterization is a diagnostic procedure that provides your doctor with information that cannot be obtained by any other means. The procedure is sometimes referred to as a coronary angiogram or coronary angiography and is simply a special x-ray test used to look at the arteries and chambers of the heart. A cardiac catheterization is NOT surgery. It is a diagnostic study that generally takes about one to two hours to complete.

What does cardiac catheterization show?

This procedure helps doctors to diagnose heart conditions such as coronary artery disease, defective heart valves, or congenital heart defects (defects you are born with). Cardiac catheterization also provides important information about the heart’s pumping function.

How do you prepare for this procedure?

There are several routine tests done before a cardiac cath:

  • EKG
  • Blood tests
  • Medical history and exam
  • Chest x-ray

You will receive specific instructions about the food you may have. Generally, you may have nothing to eat or drink six to eight hours before the procedure. Some suggestions to help you prepare:

  • Pack a small bag of overnight clothing in case your doctor decides you need to stay overnight.
  • Do NOT bring valuables.
  • Bring a list of medications (with exact names and dosages) that you currently take.
  • Your physician will tell you which medications you may take on the day of the procedure.
  • Arrange for someone to drive you home.
  • Be sure to mention if you are allergic to x-ray dyes or shellfish.
  • Empty your bladder for your own comfort.

What should I expect?

The procedure is done in a catheterization laboratory. Generally, you will arrive on the morning of the day of the procedure. You will possibly go home later that same day, unless you are already a patient in the hospital.

You will be awake during the procedure, which usually takes less that an hour, if only catheterization. If you have a balloon angioplasty or other procedure, more time will be required.

A local anesthesia is injected and a small tube, or sheath, is inserted into the artery in your arm or leg. You may feel a little pressure.

The procedure begins when the doctor inserts a thin, flexible tube (called a catheter) through the sheath into the artery. The catheter is passed toward your heart. As this is done, the doctors and technicians check the TV monitors to follow the catheter’s movement to the heart.

Then a dye is injected through the catheter. This helps the doctor to pinpoint where the problem with your coronary arteries might be.

When the procedure is finished, the doctor will remove the catheter. A nurse or technician will apply pressure for 15-20 minutes. A pressure bandage is placed on the site before you are returned to your room.

If the catheter was inserted in the groin, you’ll remain lying down for several hours. You will be asked not to move your leg. The nurses will watch you carefully, take your blood pressure, and check the site frequently to make sure there is no bleeding. You will be asked to drink a lot of fluids to flush the dye out of your system.

Most people have no pain, and you will generally go home that same day.

Your doctor will explain the results to you. Sometimes cardiac catheterization will show that your heart is just fine. If there is a problem, your doctor will discuss all possible treatments.

What can I do when I return home?

Be sure to make arrangements to have a friend or family member drive you home.

Avoid heavy lifting, and do only light activities for a few days. You may have a small bruise or lump the size of an olive under the skin at the insertion site. This should go away in a few weeks.

Call your doctor if:

  • The insertion site bleeds.
  • You feel chest pain or discomfort.
  • You arm or leg feels numb or cold.
  • The bruising or swelling gets worse or increases.
  • If you have a fever or signs of infection appear at the insertion site.
  • Any other unusual symptoms.

What are the risks?

This is called an invasive procedure because a catheter is inserted into the body. As with any procedure of this type, there can be some risk involved. Please ask your doctor to discuss the risks and benefits so that you are fully informed.

Please call (888) 741-5115 for a free physician referral.