What is cardiac catheterization?

A cardiac catheterization is a procedure in which a small, flexible tube called a catheter is inserted into a blood vessel. The catheter is usually put into a blood vessel in your groin (or sometimes your arm). Your doctor gently "steer" the catheter toward your heart and blood vessel test and procedures.

For instance, a cardiac catheterization is often in a angiogram. In an angiogram, your doctor injects dye through the catheter into your arteries to find any blockage. With a catheterization, your doctor can also:

  • Measure blood pressure in your heart or lungs
  • Take a tiny sample (or biopsy) of your heart muscle
  • Determine how much oxygen is in your blood
  • Measure the amount of blood flowing through your heart and blood vessels
  • Do an electrophysiology (EP) study to check the electrical system in your heart

During a cardiac catheterization, your doctor may also treat any blocked blood vessels with one or more of these procedures to improve blood flow:

  • An atherectomy- using a catheter with a butting tool to clear plaque from an artery
  • A balloon angioplasty- using a catheter with a balloon that expands and presses plaque against the side of an artery
  • A stent implant- inserting a tiny mesh tube into an artery to help keep it open after plaque has been cleared.

What can I expect?

Your procedure will be performed in a "Cath lab". When you have a cardiac catheterization, you undress and put on a hospital gown or sheet. You lie on an exam table, and an intravenous (IV) line is put into your arm. The IV delivers fluid and medications during the procedure. The medication makes you groggy, but not unconscious. Electrodes on your chest monitor your heart's activity during the procedure.  A blood pressure cuff on you arm also regularly takes your blood pressure. The doctor makes a small incision (usually in the groin) for the catheter. The area will be numbed - so you shouldn't feel anything, but you may feel some pressure as the catheter is inserted. You won't be fully asleep, so during the test your doctor or nurse may ask you questions to make sure you are not feeling pain for instance. Afterwards, you might be in the hospital overnight. Most people have a fairly rapid recovery.