Millions of Americans are living with heart disease and some of them don't even realize they have it. Heart disease is the number one cause of death; above cancer, diabetes, and injuries. That's why it's important to get it diagnosed and treated quickly. Fortunately, we doctors have a lot of tests and treatments at our disposal to combat heart disease.
One procedure that is both a test AND a treatment is called cardiac catheterization. It can show your doctor how healthy your heart and blood vessels are, and treat heart valve problems, clogged arteries, and heart defects. Let's talk today about cardiac catheterization.
So, why would you even need cardiac catheterization?
Well, doctors use cardiac catheterization to diagnose and evaluate common heart and blood vessel problems, like chest pain or an abnormal stress test due to coronary artery disease, heart valve conditions like a leaky or narrowed valve, a high blood pressure condition in the lungs, blood clots in the lungs from an embolism, and an enlarged heart.
You'll need to have this procedure in a supervised hospital setting. You may need to stay overnight at the hospital the night before the test, or you may be admitted the morning of the procedure.
The whole cardiac catheterization procedure takes about 30 to 60 minutes. You'll be given medicine to help you relax, but you'll be awake during the procedure. First, the doctor will insert an intravenous, or IV line into one of the blood vessels in your groin or neck. Through this IV line, your doctor will pass a thin, flexible tube called a catheter. That tube will be threaded into either the left or right side of your heart. The doctor will use an x-ray as a guide to see where the catheter is going.
While the catheter is in place, your doctor can check how well the blood is flowing into and out of your heart, and through the arteries around your heart, collect blood samples from your heart, measure the oxygen level in your heart, and even take a tiny piece of heart tissue, called a biopsy, when there's a situation of unexplained heart failure.
Cardiac catheterization is a safe procedure when performed by an experienced medical team. But, some possible risks include bleeding, infection, and blood clots.
A heart attack or a stroke can happen in very rare situations. But, remember, it's done in a closely supervised setting in a hospital.
After a cardiac catheterization, your doctor should have a pretty good idea of what's causing your heart, valve, or blood vessel problem. Knowing exactly what the problem is can help your doctor find just the right way to treat your particular problem.
Review Date: 2/19/2016
Reviewed By: Laura J. Martin, MD, MPH, ABIM Board Certified in Internal Medicine and Hospice and Palliative Medicine, Atlanta, GA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.