Cardiac catheterization, also called heart catheterization, is an invasive imaging procedure that involves identifying and treating cardiovascular conditions. A doctor may perform cardiac catheterization in order to locate narrowing blood vessels that cause chest pain, diagnose heart defects that are present at birth, diagnose high blood pressure in the lungs, evaluate heart muscle function, repair heart defects, take a sample tissue from the heart (biopsy), identify problems associated with heart valves or determine the need for further treatment.
A few recommended instructions on how to prepare before cardiac catheterization include:
- Avoiding eating or drinking anything for at least 6 hours before the test
- Consulting with a medical professional beforehand of any medications or supplements taken
- Relaxing during the test in order avoid complicating the procedure by causing the heart to beat more quickly or irregularly
- Arranging for transportation to and from the hospital
- Arranging for home care during recovery after surgery
During cardiac catheterization, the doctor evaluates heart function by inserting catheters using a guidewire and moving them up towards the heart. Once in position above the aortic valve, the guidewire is removed. The catheter is then engaged with the origin of the coronary artery and an x-ray opaque iodine-based contrast is further injected to make the coronary vessels show up on the x-ray fluoroscopy image.
Several procedures associated with cardiac catheterization include the following:
- Angioplasty with or without stent placement: A surgical procedure that involves the implantation of a small metal coil (stent) into a clogged artery to help open it up and reduce the change of it narrowing again.
- Balloon valvuloplasty: A surgical procedure that involves opening narrowed heart valves by inserting a balloon-tipped catheter into the part of the heart valve that is narrowed and inflating the balloon.
- Ablation: A surgical procedure used to treat heart arrhythmia by applying heart or extreme cold energy to abnormal heart tissue through the tip of a catheter.
- Closing holes in the heart and fixing other congenital defects
- Repairing or replacing heart valves
- Closing off part of the heart to prevent blood clots
Like with any surgical procedure, possible risks that can arise from cardiac catheterization include:
- Heart attack
- Kidney damage
- Blood clots
- Injury to the coronary artery
- Tearing of heart tissue
- Low blood pressure
- Allergic reaction to the contrast dye
The overall surgical procedure takes 30-60 minutes. After surgery, a patient is often asked to lie flat on their back for a few hours after the test to avoid the risk of bleeding. Due to advances in knowledge, technology and techniques, cardiac catheterization is performed on an outpatient basis, meaning the procedure is done early in the day and the patient may be able to go home the same day.
The success rate of an individual undergoing cardiac catheterization generally depends on the individual’s condition and its severity. Results may indicate the need for angioplasty or a stent, or even major open heart surgery (coronary bypass surgery). In any case, proper medical consultation with a doctor is required in order to discuss further possibilities and preferences.