Cath Lab

Your doctor may recommend that you have a cardiac catheterization procedure to diagnose or treat a heart condition. Cardiac catheterization involves threading a long, thin flexible tube through an artery or vein, usually in the arm or upper thigh, to the heart.

The procedure may be performed for a variety of reasons, such as diagnosing or evaluating coronary artery disease, congenital heart defects or heart valve problems, as well as identifying causes of heart failure or cardiomyopathy.

Additional procedures that can be performed in conjunction with cardiac catheterization include repairing certain kinds of heart defects or stuck heart valves, or opening blocked arteries in the heart. 

Preparing for cardiac catheterization begins the night before the procedure. You will probably be asked not to eat or drink anything after midnight. Check with your doctor about taking any medications, especially blood-thinning or anti-platelet prescriptions.

Once you arrive at the hospital where the test will take place, you will change into a hospital gown and may have blood tests, an electrocardiogram and a chest X-ray prior to the procedure. 

In the catheterization laboratory, or cath lab, you will lie on your back on an examination table and electrodes (small, metal disks), which are attached by wires to an electrocardiogram machine, will be placed on your chest to monitor heart rhythm during the test.

You will be given a sedative before the cardiac catheterization to help you relax but will remain awake during the 30- to 60-minute procedure. 

The area where the catheter is inserted is numbed and a small incision is made into the blood vessel. Special X-rays are taken as the catheter and guide wire are gently threaded to the proper place in the heart to perform necessary tests or treatments. You may feel some discomfort at the incision site or from having to remain still for an extended period of time.

A special dye may be administered through the catheter to allow your doctor to see how well your heart is pumping blood out of the main chambers. Your doctor also could use the catheter to take blood samples from different areas of the heart or to perform minor heart surgery. If there are blockages in the arteries, your doctor may perform an angioplasty to improve blood flow. 

After the procedure is finished, the catheter is removed and the incision site is closed and bandaged. A small weight or firm pressure is applied for several hours where the catheter was inserted to prevent bleeding. Your blood pressure and heart rate will be checked regularly while you recover.

Usually you can return home the same day as the procedure. A small bruise may appear where the catheter was inserted, and you may feel some tenderness or soreness for about a week. 

Cardiac catheterizations are performed frequently and rarely cause serious problems or complications. 

For more information about the procedure, talk with your doctor, or 866-358-4DOC (4362) for a free referral to a cardiologist near you.