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Heart Catheterization

Medically reviewed by Last updated on Aug 31, 2022.

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 the valves, blood vessels, or 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?

  • Your healthcare provider will tell you how to prepare. He or she may tell you not to eat or drink after midnight on the day of the procedure. Arrange to have someone drive you home after you are discharged.
  • Tell your provider if you are sick or have been sick during the week before the procedure.
  • Tell your provider about all medicines you currently take. He or she will tell you if you need to stop any medicine for the procedure, and when to stop. He or she will tell you which medicines to take or not take on the day of your procedure.
  • You may get contrast liquid to help the parts of your heart show up more clearly in pictures. Tell your provider if you had an allergic reaction to contrast liquid or other medicines.
  • You may need a chest x-ray, ultrasound, or blood tests before the procedure. You may also need an electrocardiogram (ECG). Talk to your provider about these or other tests you may need.

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 medicine 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, but you should not feel pain. You may need to stay 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 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. Contrast liquid may be used to help heart tissues, blood vessels, or valves show up more clearly on the x-ray. Oxygen and pressures may be measured in parts of your heart and blood vessels. Blockages in your blood vessels may be fixed. Valves in your heart may be opened, repaired, or replaced. A small piece of heart tissue may be removed to stop irregular heartbeats. An atrial or ventricular septal defect may be repaired. A stent (small tube) may be left inside your artery to hold it open.
  • Your provider will remove the catheter. He or she may use clamps, stitches, or other devices to close the procedure area. Pressure will be applied to the area for several minutes to stop any bleeding. A pressure bandage or other pressure device may be placed over the area to help prevent more bleeding.

What should I expect after heart catheterization?

  • You will be attached to a heart monitor until you are fully awake. Healthcare providers will check your pressure bandage often 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. When your providers see you are okay, you may be able to go home. If you will stay in the hospital overnight, you will be taken to a hospital room.
  • You may have pain, swelling, or bruising at the catheter site for a few days.

What are the risks of heart catheterization?

You may bleed more than expected or develop an infection. You may need surgery to repair damage from the catheter to your heart or blood vessels, or to stop bleeding. You may develop a life-threatening blood clot in your arm or leg. You could have a heart attack or stroke during or after the procedure. You could also develop irregular heartbeats.

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

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