Heart Catheterization

What is a heart catheterization?

A heart catheterization (or heart cath) is a procedure used to look specifically at the arteries that lie on the surface of your heart. These arteries deliver oxygen filled blood to the heart muscle itself. A specially trained physician called an Interventionalist or Cardiologist performs the procedure.

Why is a heart catheterization necessary?

There are several reasons why you may need a heart catheterization. Usually, your physician will request that you have this test done if you have signs and symptoms of blocked arteries. Perhaps you have had other heart tests done which have shown an "abnormal" result. A heart cath may be done as a means of further investigation.

What special preparation is there?

You will be asked to have nothing to eat or drink after midnight the night prior to your procedure. Your medications will be reviewed with you at the time you sign your consent. Expect special instructions if you take any medicine to thin your blood or any medications for diabetes. You will need someone to bring you to the hospital. You may not drive yourself.

Do not use any lotions or powders after your shower the morning of your heart cath.

**If you are allergic to x-ray dye, iodine or shellfish, make sure your physician is aware before you sign your consent!

What will I experience the day of my procedure?

Upon arrival, you will be greeted by the Cath Lab staff who will escort you to the Holding Area. In most instances, one family member may accompany you.

Once in the Holding Area, you will change into a hospital gown. You will be hooked up to the heart monitor and your vital signs will be taken. An intravenous line (IV) will be started. Paperwork will be reviewed and questions answered.

A shave prep will be done if the physician plans to do your procedure through the groin. Sometimes, the arm is used as an alternative.

Just before entering the procedure room, your family member will be given a small pager so they can be easily located.

When your cardiologist is ready, you will be wheeled into the procedure room. It is dimly lit and a little on the chilly side. You will be placed on the procedure table which is much like an x-ray table. It is hard, flat and narrow. If you have any back trouble, please keep the staff informed.

Once on the table, your skin will be cleansed with a cold, wet antiseptic solution. You will be covered with sterile drapes.

Once your physician has entered the procedure room, medication will be given through your IV to make you sleepy. A very small needle will be used to make the groin numb. From this point forward, you should feel nothing but pressure at the groin. If you have pain, tell the staff.

Once the groin is numb, a catheter (much like an IV catheter in the arm) will be inserted into the artery in the groin. Through this catheter, your doctor will inject a special x-ray dye. Some patients report a warm flushing feeling. This is temporary, lasting less than 30 seconds. This dye allows the physician to take special x-ray pictures of your heart arteries. Depending on the findings of your procedure, the process may vary at this point.

What happens after my heart catheterization is done?

If you have no blockages requiring treatment at that time, you will be prepared for discharge. The physician will take the catheter out of your groin. Sometimes a staff member will hold pressure on the artery until the bleeding is stopped. Sometimes a closure device will be used. You will be instructed, at the time, which is planned. Following a period of bed rest, which is approximately two hours, your head will be elevated. You will be given a little something to eat and drink. The staff will walk you briefly and help you prepare for home.

Again, you will not be able to drive yourself home. We also ask that you not be left alone for a period of about 24 hours following your study.

Slowly return to your normal diet. You should expect to take it easy for a period of two to three days, gradually returning to your normal activity level unless told otherwise. No bending at the waist or hip for two to three days. Specific discharge instructions will be given to you, in writing, prior to leaving the hospital.

Are there risks or complications involved?

The risks involved with a heart catheterization are rare. The more common complications are bruising at the catheter site or perhaps a small collection of blood under the surface of the skin. This is called a hematoma. It may feel like a small lump just under the skin. This blood will reabsorb on its own but this may take up to several weeks to occur. Other potential complications will be discussed with you by your cardiologist prior to signing the procedure consent.

What happens next?

Your cardiologist will develop a plan of care specifically designed to meet the needs of your heart. This plan will be discussed with you prior to leaving the hospital. It may be as simple as routine monitoring by your physician. Perhaps you may need to take new medications. If significant blockages were found in one or more of your heart arteries, you may have been told a stent may be needed. If so, please refer to the link on percutaneous coronary intervention for further information related to this procedure. Patients who have significant blockages of many blood vessels may require heart surgery.