Heart doctors, known as cardiologists, use cardiac catheterization to diagnose and treat certain heart conditions. If you have chest pain, heart failure, valve disease, a heart birth defect, or other heart trouble, your healthcare provider may recommend that you have a cardiac catheterization.
What is Cardiac Catheterization?
Cardiac catheterization is used to find out how well your heart is working. It’s done with a series of different long, thin, flexible tubes called catheters. The catheters have special tips or sensors. The catheters are put into a large blood vessel in the groin. It is much simpler than surgery. You do not need to be asleep for the procedure. In fact, during the test you may be asked to follow directions such as raise your arm, hold your breath, or cough.
During the procedure, the doctor may measure the blood pressure in your heart, lungs, and blood vessels and see how well your heart pumps. The amount of blood flowing through your heart and blood vessels may be checked. The level of oxygen in your blood may also be checked. In some cases, special catheters may be used to treat heart or valve disease during the test. In rare cases, a tiny sample of heart tissue may be removed and tested. This is called a biopsy.
Benefits and Risks
Cardiac catheterization gives your doctor information that other tests may not be able to give. Your doctor will talk with you about the benefits and risks of the procedure. It is a relatively safe procedure. Serious complications are rare. As with any procedure, some complications can occur. You may have a small bruise or a bulge at the site of entry in the leg. Nerves that are near the site in the leg may be irritated for a short time. The site can get infected, but this is not common. Serious complications such as irregular heart rhythms, heart attack, blood clots, stroke, trauma to the blood vessel, and kidney damage are rare. An allergic reaction to contrast dye is also not common. But make sure to tell your doctor if you have trouble breathing during the test.
During Your Procedure
In the hospital, your leg is cleaned and then shaved if needed. You lie on a table. Sterile drapes are placed around you. These help to decrease the risk of infection. Electrodes are placed on your chest. A blood pressure cuff is put on your arm. You are awake for the procedure, but medicine is put in a vein in your arm to help you relax. The skin on your leg is numbed with an injection of lidocaine.
Using a needle, the doctor puts a short plastic tube called a sheath into a blood vessel in your leg. A guidewire and catheter are put through the sheath, into the blood vessel, and then up to the heart. A video screen shows X-ray pictures of the catheter’s progress up to the heart. Different catheters with special tips can be put in and removed through the sheath. These are used to do different types of procedures. While watching the video screen, the doctor puts each catheter in different parts of the heart to get the information needed. In some cases, a special contrast dye may be used. This helps the doctor see the structure of your heart and blood vessels.
After Your Catheterization
Your doctor will talk with you about the results of your cardiac catheterization and tell you about your treatment options. Your options depend on the type of heart problem you have. You may just need a change in medicines. Or, you may need another procedure.
When to Call Your Healthcare Provider
Call the doctor if you have pain that gets worse, or if you notice bleeding or bulging of skin at the catheter site. Let them know if you have signs of infection such as redness, warmth, drainage or fever, or if you feel coolness or tingling in your leg. Call 911 right away if you have trouble breathing, have severe chest pain or symptoms of stroke. Stroke symptoms include confusion, slurred speech, drooping on one side of your face, and trouble moving or feeling one side of your body.
What We Have Learned
- Cardiac catheterization can diagnose and treat a variety of heart conditions. True or False?
The answer is True. If you have chest pain, heart failure, valve disease, a heart birth defect, or other heart trouble, your healthcare provider may recommend that you have a cardiac catheterization.
- During your procedure, your doctor may inject dye into your bloodstream. True or False?
The answer is True. This helps the doctor see the structure of your heart and blood vessels.
- Heart attacks, stroke, and other serious complications that result from heart catheterization are rare. True or False?
The answer is True. Catheterization is a relatively safe procedure. Serious complications are rare.