Everything You Need to Know About Cardiac Catheterization

If you have heart disease, you may have heard about cardiac catheterization and wondered whether you might be a candidate for this procedure. Below, we explain what cardiac catheterization is and what conditions it can help diagnose and/or treat. We also explore some of the diagnostic tests and treatments commonly performed by cardiac catheterization doctors using this procedure, discuss what to expect on the day of your procedure and review whether it poses any risks.

What Is Cardiac Catheterization?

Cardiac catheterization (often referred to as “cardiac cath”) is a procedure that can be used to diagnose and/or treat a wide array of conditions affecting the heart. During this procedure, a cardiac catheterization doctor inserts a catheter (a long, thin, flexible tube) into one of the patient’s arteries or veins—often in the wrist or groin—then guides it through that blood vessel to the patient’s heart, where it can be used to perform various diagnostic tests and treatments.

Interventional and invasive cardiologists often use this procedure to diagnose and/or treat the following conditions:

  • Arrhythmias (irregular heartbeats)
  • Blood clots
  • Cardiomyopathy
  • Congenital heart disease
  • Coronary artery disease
  • Heart failure
  • Heart valve disease
  • Microvascular heart disease
  • Pulmonary hypertension
  • Structural heart disease

What Tests Can Be Performed During a Cardiac Catheterization Procedure?

Doctors can use cardiac catheterization to perform a variety of diagnostic tests, such as:

  • Biopsy – The doctor uses the catheter to remove a small piece of heart tissue, then sends the sample to a pathologist for testing.
  • Coronary angiogram – This test is used to check for narrowing and/or blockages within the blood vessels supplying the heart. Before taking a series of fluoroscopic images (think X-ray video), the doctor uses the catheter to inject a contrast dye, which helps highlight the blood vessels on the resulting images.
  • Hemodynamic assessment – The doctor uses the catheter to measure oxygen levels and pressure within different areas of the heart.

What Treatments Can Be Done During a Cardiac Catheterization Procedure?

Some of the treatments that are commonly performed using cardiac catheterization include:

  • Balloon angioplasty (with or without stenting) – This procedure is used to open up a narrowed blood vessel supplying the heart. The doctor uses the catheter and wires to insert a small balloon across a narrowing, then inflates the balloon to widen the narrowed portion of the blood vessel. Often, the doctor will also insert a stent to help the blood vessel stay open.
  • Balloon valvuloplasty – Similar to balloon angioplasty, balloon valvuloplasty uses a balloon to widen a narrowed heart valve. The doctor inserts the balloon through the catheter, then inflates the balloon to open up the valve in question.
  • Cardiac ablation – This procedure is used to treat arrhythmias. The doctor uses the catheter to apply heat or cold energy to the heart, creating tiny scars that help block abnormal electrical signals and pathways.
  • Heart valve replacement – This procedure is used to replace a heart valve that has been damaged or has deteriorated beyond repair. The doctor uses the catheter to implant an artificial heart valve in the damaged valve’s place.

What to Expect During a Cardiac Catheterization Procedure

Cardiac catheterization will vary from one patient to another based on factors such as the patient’s condition and the type of test or treatment being performed during the procedure. If it turns out that you’re a candidate for cardiac catheterization, your doctor will explain to you in greater detail exactly what you should expect on the day of your procedure, and they’ll also provide you with specific instructions for what to do beforehand and afterward.

With that being said, patients are often kept awake during cardiac catheterization but are usually given sedatives to help them relax, a process known as “conscious sedation.” Once the patient is sedated, the doctor will numb the catheter insertion site, insert the catheter and then guide it through a blood vessel to the patient’s heart. Although the patient is sedated, they will be arousable and able to follow the doctor’s instructions. The doctor will then use the catheter to perform the necessary diagnostic tests and/or treatments, as described above.

Cardiac catheterization is often performed on an outpatient basis (meaning that the patient can return home the same day), but some patients will need to remain hospitalized for at least one night. It’s common for the catheter insertion site to be bruised and feel sore for a few days following the procedure. And if the doctor uses a closure device at the catheter insertion site, it may produce a small lump that should resolve within a few weeks.

What Are the Risks of Cardiac Catheterization?

Cardiac catheterization is generally safe and rarely causes major complications. However, as with any medical procedure, it poses certain risks, including:

  • Allergic reaction to medications or contrast dyes administered during the procedure
  • Arrhythmias
  • Bleeding
  • Blood clots
  • Bruising
  • Cardiac ischemia (reduced blood flow to the heart)
  • Cardiac tamponade (a buildup of fluid around the heart)
  • Collapsed lung
  • Damage to the heart, a blood vessel or the catheter insertion site
  • Heart attack
  • Infection
  • Kidney injury/failure
  • Low blood pressure
  • Stroke

That being said, it is considered a relatively low-risk procedure. If such a procedure is recommended by your doctor, the risks versus the potential benefits would be discussed and weighed with you, prior to proceeding.

Offering Cardiac Catheterization in the Tampa Bay Area

If you think you may be a candidate for a cardiac catheterization procedure, you can turn to the experienced cardiology team at Florida Medical Clinic. We treat patients at numerous offices throughout the Tampa Bay region, including ones in Watergrass (at 7760 Curley Road), Zephyrhills (at 6606 Stadium Drive), Wiregrass (at 2352 Bruce B. Downs Boulevard) and Land O’ Lakes (at 2100 Via Bella Boulevard). Click here to request an appointment with Dr. Ahmed at one of these locations.

About Dr. Sameer W. Ahmed, MD

As a board-certified interventional cardiologist, Dr. Ahmed has extensive experience using catheter-based procedures to both diagnose and treat heart disease. He graduated from American University of Antigua College of Medicine, completed an internal medicine residency at Saint Agnes Hospital, then went on to complete cardiology and interventional cardiology fellowships at Geisinger Medical Center. In addition to interventional cardiology, Dr. Ahmed holds board certifications in cardiovascular disease, echocardiography, internal medicine and nuclear cardiology.

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Cardiology

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