Your doctor may recommend cardiac catheterization to help with diagnoses or plan treatment. It can be useful when your doctor wants to do any of the following:
Your doctor may perform additional procedures to diagnose or treat your condition during cardiac catheterization. Some of these procedures include:
Your doctor may wait to do the procedure or recommend that you do not have cardiac catheterization if you have one of the following conditions:
Before cardiac catheterization, you will meet with your cardiologist, a doctor who specializes in the heart. The doctor will ask you about your medical history, including what medicines you are taking and any allergies you may have, and do a physical exam. Your doctor will also give you instructions on how to prepare for the procedure.
You may have some of the following tests before your catheterization procedure:
Talk to your doctor about your medical history, including any medicines you take, other surgical procedures you have had, and any medical conditions you have, such as diabetes or kidney disease.
Your doctor will talk to you about how to prepare for the procedure, including:
Cardiac catheterization takes place in a catheterization laboratory, or cath lab, which is similar to a small operating room. The procedure is often done in a hospital, but you may be able to have the procedure in a catheterization laboratory located in a medical clinic, depending on the reason you are having the procedure and the risk for complications.
Before cardiac catheterization, an intravenous line (IV) will be placed in a vein in your arm. Through this IV you will get a medicine to either help you relax or make you sleep during the procedure.
You will get numbing medicine, or local anesthesia, at the site where the doctor will insert the catheter. This site is called the access site and may be in the upper thigh, arm, neck, or under the collarbone. The doctor places a needle into a blood vessel at the access site. A guidewire is inserted into the needle, and the needle is taken out. Then the doctor places a small tube called a sheath in the blood vessel around the guidewire. The guidewire is removed. The catheter is then inserted through the sheath. Your doctor watches X-ray images to see where to place the tip of the catheter.
Once the catheter is in place, your doctor may use it to perform tests or treatments on your heart. For example, he or she may inject a dye into the catheter to look at blood flow in the heart. The dye will enter your blood vessels and make your coronary arteries visible in X-ray pictures.
Cardiac catheterization is a relatively safe procedure, and complications are rare. Possible complications include the following:
Although not an immediate risk, repeated radiation exposure from X-rays used to place the catheter in the heart, especially with children, may increase the risk of cancer and leukemia, damage to skin, and cataracts later in life.
After the procedure, your doctor will remove the catheters, sheath, and guidewire. A dressing, accompanied by pressure, is applied to the site where the catheter was inserted to stop the bleeding. The pressure may be held by hand or with a sandbag or other device. You will be moved to a recovery room, where you will lie in bed. Your heartbeat and blood pressure will be monitored.
Depending on your health before the cardiac catheterization and what additional procedures were done during the cardiac catheterization, you may have to spend the night in the hospital. You should follow your doctor’s instructions on what medicines to take and when to resume activity.
Read Life After for more information about going home after cardiac catheterization.
If you have had cardiac catheterization, it is important that you receive follow-up care, know about the possible complications that may occur after the procedure, and follow the treatment plan that your doctor recommends for your condition.
It is important to get routine follow-up care after you have cardiac catheterization. Talk with your doctor about how often you should schedule office visits.
Complications from cardiac catheterization are rare but can be serious. A small bruise and tenderness at the access site is normal. Call your doctor immediately if you experience any of the following, as they may be signs of serious complications.
Other serious complications after catheterization, although rare, include heart attack and stroke. If you think that you are or someone else is having the following symptoms, call 9-1-1 immediately.
Heart attack signs and symptoms include:
Read more about the signs and symptoms of a stroke.
Learn about the following ways in which the NHLBI continues to translate current research into improved health for people who need procedures such as cardiac catheterization. Research on this topic is part of the NHLBI’s broader commitment to advancing heart and vascular disease scientific discovery.
Learn about exciting ways the NHLBI has contributed to advances in cardiac catheterization.
In support of our mission, we are committed to advancing research on cardiac catheterization in part through the following ways.
Learn about exciting research areas the NHLBI is exploring that involve cardiac catheterization.
We lead or sponsor studies relevant to cardiac catheterization. See whether you or someone you know is eligible to participate in our clinical trials.
After reading our Cardiac Catheterization Health Topic, you may be interested in additional information found in the following resources.