This procedure involves inserting a thin, flexible tube into the body to reach your heart.
Cardiac catheterization – sometimes called heart catheterization – is a common way to diagnose and treat heart conditions.
In this procedure, a doctor inserts a catheter (a thin, flexible tube) into an artery or vein in your groin, arm, or neck.
The catheter is threaded through your blood vessels to your heart.
When cardiac catheterization is used as a diagnostic tool, doctors can:
- Locate blockages or narrowing in your blood vessels (known as an angiogram)
- Perform a biopsy of your heart (take a small tissue sample)
- Check how your heart is pumping
- Measure pressure and oxygen levels in the heart and lungs
- Diagnose heart defects or problems with heart valves
When cardiac catheterization is used as a treatment tool, doctors can:
- Perform angioplasty (a procedure to open blocked arteries by inflating a tiny balloon)
- Insert a stent (a device that helps prop an artery open)
- Close holes in the heart
- Fix congenital (present since birth) heart defects
- Replace or repair heart valves
- Perform ablation (a procedure to treat heart rhythm disorders)
- Close off parts of the heart to prevent blood clots
The Catheterization Procedure
Cardiac catheterization is usually done in a hospital while you're awake, but sedated.
The procedure is typically performed by a cardiologist.
You'll receive medicine to help you relax through an IV in your arm, and a local anesthetic to numb the area where the needle is inserted (in the groin, arm, or neck).
Your doctor will make a small needle puncture through your skin and into a large blood vessel. A plastic sheath is inserted into the vessel.
Next, your doctor will insert a catheter into your heart through the sheath.
Live X-rays can serve as a guide to see where the catheter should be placed. Your doctor may inject a contrast dye through the catheter to see where arteries are blocked.
Once the catheter is in the right spot, your doctor can look at your heart or perform any necessary procedures.
Don't eat or drink anything for at least six hours before a cardiac catheterization.
Tell your doctor ahead of time about all medicines you take, and ask if you should take them the day of your procedure.
Also, let your doctor know in advance about all medical conditions you have. Be sure to tell your doctor if you might be pregnant before having this procedure.
It typically takes a few hours to recover from a cardiac catheterization.
You may need to lie flat for several hours after the procedure.
You should be able to eat and drink after a cardiac catheterization. You might experience some discomfort where the catheter was placed.
You may be able to go home on the same day.
However, if you've had another procedure such as angioplasty, you'll need to stay in the hospital.
The length of stay will depend on your condition and the treatment you received.
Risks of Catheterization
Potential risks of a cardiac catheterization include:
- Bleeding or bruising
- Heart attack or stroke
- Damage to the artery where the catheter was inserted
- Irregular heart rhythm (arrhythmia)
- An allergic reaction to the dye or medication used
- Kidney damage
- A blood clot
- Tearing of tissue in your heart or artery
Editorial Sources and Fact-Checking
- Cardiac catheterization; MedlinePlus.
- Cardiac Catheterization, American Heart Association.
- What Is Cardiac Catheterization? National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.
- Cardiac catheterization, Mayo Clinic.