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Cardiac Catheterization

Cardiac catheterization involves passing a thin flexible tube, called a catheter, into the right or left side of the heart, usually from the groin or the arm.

The procedure begins with an intravenous (IV) line being inserted into one of the blood vessels in the arm, neck or groin. A catheter is then inserted through the IV and into the blood vessel. The catheter is carefully threaded into the heart using an x-ray machine that produces real-time pictures called fluoroscopy. Once the catheter is in place, the physician may collect blood samples from the heart, measure pressure and blood flow in the heart's chambers and arteries, measure the oxygen in different parts of the heart, or perform a biopsy of the heart muscle.

During catheterization, the patient will be awake and able to follow instructions. A mild sedative is usually given 30 minutes before the test to promote relaxation. The patient may feel some discomfort at the site where the catheter is placed. Local anesthesia will be used to numb the site, so the only sensation should be pressure at the site.

Generally, catheterization is performed to get information about the heart or blood vessels or to provide treatment for certain types of heart conditions. It may also be used to determine whether heart surgery is needed.

Cardiac catheterization can also be used to repair certain types of heart defects, repair a stuck (stenotic) heart valve or open blocked arteries in the heart.

Cardiac catheterization carries a slightly higher risk than other heart tests but is very safe when performed by an experienced team. Generally, the risks include:

  • Cardiac arrhythmias
  • Heart attack
  • Bleeding
  • Low blood pressure
  • Reaction to the contrast medium
  • Stroke
  • Trauma to the artery caused by a hematoma

Possible complications of catheterization include:

  • Bleeding, infection and pain at the IV site
  • A very small risk that the soft plastic catheters could damage the blood vessels
  • Blood clots could form on the catheters and later block blood vessels elsewhere in the body.
  • The contrast material could damage the kidneys (particularly in patients with diabetes).

Texas Health is committed to providing quality care to heart and vascular patients throughout North Texas and beyond. While various technologies and services are discussed here, not all of our hospitals offer every treatment and diagnostic technology highlighted. Call 1-877-THR-WELL to learn more about heart and vascular services at a Texas Health hospital near you.