cardiac catheterization

What is cardiac catheterization?

cardiac catheter

Cardiac catheterization (cardiac cath or heart cath) is a procedure to examine how well your heart is working. A thin, hollow tube called a catheter is inserted into a large blood vessel that leads to your heart. View an illustration of cardiac catheterization(link opens in new window).

Quick facts

  • Cardiac cath is performed to find out if you have disease of the heart muscle, valves or coronary (heart) arteries.
  • During the procedure, the pressure and blood flow in your heart can be measured.
  • Coronary angiography (PDF) is done during cardiac catheterization. A contrast dye visible in X-rays is injected through the catheter. X-ray images show the dye as it flows through the heart arteries. This shows where arteries are blocked.
  • The chances that problems will develop during cardiac cath are low.

Why do people have cardiac catheterization?

A cardiac cath  provides information on how well your heart works, identifies problems and allows for procedures to open blocked arteries. For example, during cardiac cath your doctor may:

  • Take X-rays using contrast dye injected through the catheter to look for narrowed or blocked coronary arteries. This is called coronary angiography or coronary arteriography.
  • Perform a percutaneous coronary intervention (PCI) such as coronary angioplasty with stenting to open up narrowed or blocked segments of a coronary artery.
  • Check the pressure in the four chambers of your heart.
  • Take samples of blood to measure the oxygen content in the four chambers of your heart.
  • Evaluate the ability of the pumping chambers to contract.
  • Look for defects in the valves or chambers of your heart.
  • Remove a small piece of heart tissue to examine under a microscope (biopsy).

“It was amazing to be able to watch the entire procedure on a TV screen. I learned a lot about my heart.”  Roberta, 41

What are the risks of cardiac catheterization?

Cardiac cath is usually very safe. A small number of people have minor problems. Some develop bruises where the catheter had been inserted (puncture site). The contrast dye that makes the arteries show up on X-rays causes some people to feel sick to their stomachs, get itchy or develop hives.

How do I prepare for cardiac catheterization?

  • You will be given instructions about what to eat and drink during the 24 hours before the test.
  • Usually, you will be asked not to eat or drink anything for six to eight hours before the cath procedure.
  • Tell your doctor about any medicines (including over-the-counter, herbs and vitamins) you take. The doctor may ask you not to take them before your cath procedure. Don’t stop taking your medicine until your doctor tells you to.
  • Tell your doctor or nurse if you are allergic to anything, especially iodine, shellfish, latex or rubber products, medicines like penicillin, or X-ray dye.
  • Arrange to have someone drive you home after your procedure.
  • If you usually wear a hearing aid, wear it during your procedure. If you wear glasses, bring them to your appointment.

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