Cardiac catheterization involves passing a thin flexible tube (catheter)
into the right or left side of the heart, usually from the groin or the arm.
What to Expect During the Procedure
Cardiac catheterization is done in a special operating room called a catheterization
lab. The catheterization lab has special X-ray and imaging machines that
normal operating rooms do not have.
Cardiac catheterization is usually performed while you're awake, but
sedated. An intravenous (IV) line will be inserted in your hand or arm,
and will be used to give you any additional medications you might need
during your procedure. You will also have monitors (electrodes) placed
on your chest to check your heartbeat during the test.
Just before the procedure, a nurse or technician may shave the hair from
the site where the catheter will be inserted. Before the catheter is inserted
in your artery, you'll be given a shot of anesthetic to numb the area.
You may feel a quick, stinging pain before the numbness sets in.
After you feel numb, the catheter will be inserted. A small cut is made,
usually in your leg, to access an artery. A plastic sheath will be inserted
in the cut to allow your doctor to insert the catheter.
What happens next depends on why you are having a cardiac catheterization:
If you're having this test to check for blockages in the arteries leading
to your heart, a dye will be injected through the catheter, and X-ray
images of your heart arteries will be taken. In a coronary angiogram,
the catheter is usually placed in the artery in your groin or wrist.
Right Heart Catheterization
This procedure checks the pressure and blood flow in the right side of
your heart. For this procedure, the catheter is inserted in the artery
in your neck or groin. The catheter has special sensors in it to measure
the pressure and blood flow in your heart.
If your doctor is taking a sample of heart tissue (biopsy), the catheter
will usually be placed in the artery in your neck. A catheter with a small,
jaw-like tip is used to cut a small sample of tissue from your heart.
You may feel pressure as this catheter is being used, but you likely won't
feel the actual tissue being snipped.
Balloon Angioplasty (With or Without Stenting)
This procedure is used to open a narrowed artery in or near your heart.
The catheter will likely be inserted in the artery in your groin for this
procedure. A long, flexible catheter will be threaded through your arteries
to the narrowed artery. Then, a smaller balloon catheter will be led through
the flexible catheter and inflated at the narrowed area to open it. In
many cases, your doctor will also place a mesh coil called a stent at
the narrowed portion to help keep the artery open.
Repair of Heart Defects
If your doctor is closing a hole in your heart, such as an atrial septal
defect or patent foramen ovale, you will probably have catheters inserted
in both the arteries and veins of the groin and neck. A device is then
inserted into your heart to close the hole.
This procedure is done to open up narrowed heart valves. The placement
of your catheters will depend on which valve problem you have. A catheter
is threaded across the valve. A balloon is then blown up to make the valve
open more easily. You may feel pressure as the catheters are inserted
into your body, but you shouldn't feel discomfort from the balloon
This procedure is similar to ballon valvuloplasty, except that an artificial
valve will be implanted in your heart to replace a leaky or narrowed heart valve.
Although you'll be sedated, you'll be awake during the procedure
so that you can follow instructions. Throughout the procedure you may
be asked to take deep breaths, hold your breath, cough or place your arms
in various positions. Your table may be tilted at times.
Threading the catheter should not be painful, and you will not feel it
moving through your body. Let your health care team know if you have any
After the Procedure
It usually takes several hours to recover from a cardiac catheterization.
After your procedure is finished, you'll be taken on a gurney to a
recovery room while the anesthesia wears off. This usually takes about
an hour. The plastic sheath inserted in your groin, neck or arm will be
removed soon after the procedure unless you need to stay on blood-thinning
After you leave the recovery room, you'll go to a regular hospital
or outpatient room. After your catheter is removed, the technician or
nurse who has removed your sheath will apply pressure to the insertion
sites. You'll need to lie flat for one to six hours after the procedure
to avoid serious bleeding and to allow the artery to heal.
You will be able to eat and drink after the procedure. The length of your
stay in the hospital will depend on your condition. You may be able to
go home the same day as your catheterization, or you may need to stay
overnight or longer. Longer stays are common if you have a more serious
procedure immediately after your catheterization, such as angioplasty
and stent placement.