Heart Catherization

General Information
A cardiac catheterization is a procedure in which the physician passes a long, thin tube through a blood vessel into your heart. This tube, called a catheter, may be introduced through a vein or through an artery. Sometimes vessels in the leg are used, and sometimes those in the arm are used. The kind and location of the vessel used vary with the information that is needed.

Through this catheter the physician can measure pressures in the heart chamber and across the heart valves. It is also possible to measure the oxygen content of the blood in the various locations. It is possible to inject dye into the heart chambers and vessels that will show on x-rays. This permits the identification of abnormal openings or blockages in the heart or its blood vessels. It is also possible to measure the electrical activity of portions of the heart, which can be important in patients that have difficulty maintaining a normal heart rate or rhythm.

Often it is possible for the physician to use the catheter to open blocked areas or perform other adjustments to the heart without the need for an operation.

Preparation for the Examination
Usually you will be asked to avoid eating from midnight the night before the examination. Be sure to tell the physician if you have an allergy to any medications or to the dye used for x-ray films. If you have difficulty lying flat on your back for a prolonged time, tell this to the physician. If you have been taking blood thinning drugs or aspirin or aspirin-like drugs, tell the physician. The physician may ask other questions about your medical history.

After the procedure, its alternatives, its objectives, and its complications have been explained to you, you will be asked to sign a consent for the performance of this procedure. If you have any questions concerning this information or the procedure itself, ask them before signing the consent. The doctor will be willing to try to answer all of your questions.

During the Catheterization
You may be given some premedication before the examination. Often the locations of your pulse in different areas will be marked to help when the time comes to pass the catheter. In addition to one or two physicians, other assistants and nurses may be in the room.

The catheterization will be performed on a special table with x-ray available. An intravenous line will be started. The area where the catheter will be introduced will be shaved and cleaned (prepped). A local anesthetic will be injected into this area.

After the catheter is introduced into the blood vessel, it will be threaded under x-ray guidance into the selected areas of the heart. At various times, dye may be injected to obtain x-ray images of the heart chambers or blood vessels. When this happens, you will be warned. You may feel a warm flush and/or some chest discomfort.

After the Procedure
The whole procedure usually takes an hour or an hour and one half. When the catheter is removed, bleeding from that spot will be controlled with pressure. You will then be taken to a recovery area and later to your hospital room. If the catheter was passed through blood vessels in the groin, you will have a pressure bandage and will need to lie flat with your leg straight. If you need to urinate or move your bowels, you must use a bed pan. If a blood vessel in your wrist or arm was used, it will have a pressure dressing, but you will be able to sit up and to use the bathroom. You may be asked to wear a sling and not to use the arm for several days. It is wise to have loose fitting clothes and button up the front shirts to wear home.

The results from the procedure are usually available very shortly after its completion. Because of the medication you receive, the doctor may delay discussing these results until you have recovered and are fully awake.

Call Our Office If ...

  • You notice any bleeding from the area where the catheter was passed into the blood vessel.
  • You have a hand or foot that becomes cold or numb or has pins-and-needles sensations.
  • You experience chest discomfort or shortness of breath.
  • You become dizzy or light headed.
  • You develop a skin rash.