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Heart Catheterization


What do I need to know about heart catheterization?

Heart catheterization is a procedure that helps diagnose and treat some heart problems. Healthcare providers can measure oxygen levels and pressures in your heart. They can also fix problems with your valves, blood vessels, or the walls of your heart. You may need this procedure if you have chest pain, heart disease, or your heart is not working properly.

How do I prepare for heart catheterization?

  • You may need blood tests, a chest x-ray, ultrasound, or electrocardiogram (ECG) before your surgery. Talk to your healthcare provider about these or other tests you may need. You will need someone to drive you home and stay with you after your procedure.
  • Your healthcare provider will talk to you about how to prepare for your procedure. He or she may tell you not to eat or drink anything after midnight on the day of your procedure. He or she will tell you what medicines to take or not take on the day of your procedure. You may need to stop taking blood thinners several days before your procedure. You can continue taking aspirin. You may be given an antibiotic through your IV to help prevent a bacterial infection.
  • Contrast liquid may be used during your procedure. Tell a healthcare provider if you have an allergy to any contrast materials or other medicines.

What will happen during heart catheterization?

  • You may be given general anesthesia to keep you asleep and free from pain during your procedure. You may instead be given IV sedation to make you feel calm and relaxed during the procedure. You may also be given local anesthesia to numb the surgery area. With local anesthesia, you may still feel pressure or pushing during your procedure, but you should not feel any pain.
  • If you are given IV sedation or local anesthesia, you will be awake enough to follow directions. You may be asked to cough, deep breathe, or hold your breath. This will help your healthcare provider see your heart structures more clearly on x-ray.
  • Your healthcare provider will insert a catheter and wire into a blood vessel in your neck, arm, wrist, or groin. He or she will move a wire through the catheter and up into your heart. Your healthcare provider may inject contrast liquid so he or she can see your heart tissue, blood vessels, or valves more clearly on the x-ray. He or she may measure oxygen and pressures in different parts of your heart and blood vessels. He or she may also fix blockages in your blood vessels or open up valves in your heart. He or she may repair or replace one of your heart valves. A small piece of your heart tissue may be taken to stop irregular heartbeats. Your healthcare provider may also repair an atrial or a ventricular septal defect.
  • Your healthcare provider will remove the catheter. He or she may use clamps, stitches, or other devices to close the wound. Pressure will be applied to the wound for several minutes to stop any bleeding. A pressure bandage or other pressure device may be placed over the wound to help prevent more bleeding.

What will happen after heart catheterization?

  • You will be attached to a heart monitor until you are fully awake. A heart monitor is an EKG that stays on continuously to record your heart's electrical activity. Healthcare providers will monitor your vital signs and pulses in your arm or leg. They will frequently check your pressure bandage for bleeding or swelling.
  • You will need to lie flat with your leg or arm straight for 2 to 4 hours. Do not get out of bed until your healthcare provider says it is okay. Arm or leg movements can cause serious bleeding. After you are monitored for several hours, you may go home or may need to stay in the hospital overnight.

What are the risks of heart catheterization?

You may bleed more than usual or get an infection. You may have bruising or pain where the catheter was. You may need surgery to repair damages from the catheter to your heart or blood vessels or stop bleeding. You may get a blood clot in your arm or leg. You could have a heart attack or stroke during or after the procedure. Your heart could have irregular heart beats. The contrast liquid may cause kidney damage or an allergic reaction.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your healthcare providers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

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Further information

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.