During cardiac catheterization a long, thin, flexible tube called a catheter is put into a blood vessel in your arm, groin (upper thigh), or neck and threaded to your heart. Through the catheter, doctors can perform diagnostic tests and treatments on your heart.
Doctors may recommend this procedure for a number of different reasons. The most common reason is to evaluate chest pain. Chest pain can be a symptom of coronary artery disease (CAD), and cardiac catheterization can show whether plaque is narrowing or blocking your heart’s arteries.
You also may have cardiac catheterization to help your doctor figure out the best treatment for your CAD if you:
Recently recovered from a heart attack, but are having chest pain
Had a heart attack that caused major damage to your heart
Had an EKG (electrocardiogram), stress test, or other test with results that suggested heart disease
You also may need cardiac catheterization if your doctor suspects you have a heart defect or if you’re about to have heart surgery. The procedure shows the overall shape of your heart and the four large spaces (heart chambers) inside it. This inside view of the heart will show certain heart defects and help your doctor plan your heart surgery.
Sometimes your doctor may do a cardiac catheterization to see how well the valves at the openings and exits of the heart chambers are working.
Other important notes
It may not be safe to drive right after the procedure. If your doctor says you can go home the same day, you should arrange for a ride home from the hospital.
During cardiac catheterization, you’re kept on your back and awake. That way you can follow your doctor’s instructions during the procedure. You’re given medicine to help you relax.
After the procedure, you will be moved to a special care area, where you will rest for several hours or overnight. During this time, your movement will be limited to avoid bleeding from the site where the catheter was inserted.
A small bruise may develop at the site where the catheter was inserted. That area may feel sore or tender for about a week. You need to let your doctor know if you have a lot of bleeding from that area or signs of infection. You may have to avoid doing certain activities, such as heavy lifting, for a short time after the procedure.
Cardiac catheterization is a common medical procedure that rarely causes serious complications. The risk of complications is higher in people with diabetes and kidney disease, and in older people and women.