Cardiac catheterization, which is also called a cardiac or heart cath, is a procedure where a thin, flexible catheter is inserted into a large blood vessel leading to the heart to examine how well the heart is working and identify problems. Some procedures to open blocked arteries can be performed during a cardiac catheterization. The heart cath can help the doctor to diagnose diseases of the heart muscle, valves or coronary arteries. It measures the pressure and blood flow within the heart and is the essential procedure to perform coronary angiography.
A cardiac catheterization takes place in a hospital and is carried out by a team of highly trained doctors, nurses and technicians. Before the procedure, the patient will be prepared with an IV, mild sedative and cleaning and shaving of the area where the catheter will be inserted, usually in the groin area to access the femoral artery. Once the patient is ready, the doctor will insert a tube into the blood vessel and gently guide the catheter through the tube and into the vessel. Once inserted, the catheter is guided through the body until it reaches the heart. A variety of tools can attach to the tip of the catheter. These tools can measure the blood pressure in the heart, view the interior of the vessels and the heart, or take blood and tissue samples. The catheter is either used to diagnose a heart or artery condition or to treat blocked arteries with stents or be removing a blockage. The doctor can also widen a narrow heart valve opening during this procedure. Once the procedure is complete, the catheter will be removed and the entry site treated to prevent bleeding. The patient will be sent for recovery for a few hours.
After the procedure, the patient will be allowed to go home after a few hours of monitored recovery. The patient will be given specific instructions which generally involve taking time to rest, avoiding strenuous movement, and taking medications as prescribed. Most people return to normal activities the day after the procedure. There may be slight bruising at the catheter entry site.