Cardiac catheterization, also known as cardiac cath or heart catheterization, is a medical procedure used to diagnose and treat some heart conditions. It lets doctors take a close look at the heart to identify problems and to perform other tests or procedures.
Your healthcare provider may recommend cardiac catheterization to find out the cause of symptoms such as chest pain or irregular heartbeat. Before the procedure, you may need to diagnostic tests, such as blood tests, heart imaging tests, or a stress test, to determine how well your heart is working and to help guide the procedure.
During cardiac catheterization, a long, thin, flexible tube called a catheter is put into a blood vessel in your arm, groin or upper thigh, or neck. The catheter is then threaded through the blood vessels to your heart. It may be used to examine your heart valves or take samples of blood or heart muscle. Your doctor may also use ultrasound, a test that uses sound waves to create an image, or they may inject a dye into your coronary arteries to see whether your arteries are narrowed or blocked. Cardiac catheterization may also be used instead of some heart surgeries to repair heart defects and replace heart valves.
Who Needs It
Your healthcare provider may recommend cardiac catheterization to find out what is causing symptoms of a heart problem or to treat or repair a heart problem.
Cardiac catheterization can be used for different purposes.
- Give a better understanding of other test results, such as echocardiography (echo), cardiac MRI, and cardiac CT scan. This is especially helpful if the results from those tests could not identify the problem or differ from what your doctor finds when examining you.
- Diagnose heart conditions such as arrhythmia, heart attack, pulmonary hypertension, cardiomyopathy, coronary heart disease, and heart valve diseases, including aortic stenosis and mitral regurgitation.
- Evaluate you before a possible heart surgery, such as a heart transplant.
- Measure oxygen levels and blood pressure in the chambers of your heart and the pulmonary arteries.
Your doctor may do other procedures to diagnose or treat your condition during cardiac catheterization.
- Collect biopsies of small samples of heart tissue for more laboratory testing. Biopsies can be used for genetic testing, to check for myocarditis (a type of heart inflammation), or to look for transplant rejection.
- Use coronary angiography to look at the heart or blood vessels by injecting dye through the catheter.
- Perform minor heart surgery to treat congenital heart defects and replace or widen narrowed heart valves.
- Use percutaneous coronary intervention (PCI) to open narrowed or blocked areas of the coronary arteries. PCI may include balloon dilation, also known as angioplasty, or stent placement. Most people who have heart attacks or underlying heart disease have narrowed or blocked coronary arteries.
- Apply catheter ablation to treat arrythmias.
Who should not have cardiac catheterization?
Your doctor may wait to do the procedure or recommend that you do not have cardiac catheterization if you have any of the following conditions:
- Abnormal electrolyte levels in your blood
- Acute gastrointestinal bleeding
- Acute kidney failure, or serious kidney disease that is not being treated with dialysis
- Acute stroke
- Blood that is too thin from blood-thinning medicines or other causes
- High levels of digoxin, a heart medicine used to treat heart failure or arrhythmia, in your blood
- Previous serious allergic reaction to the dye that is used during cardiac catheterization
- Severe anemia, which is a lower-than-normal amount of red blood cells or hemoglobin
- Unexplained fever
- Untreated infection