Heart Disease and Cardiac Catheterization

Quick GuideHeart Disease: Causes of a Heart Attack

Heart Disease: Causes of a Heart Attack

How Long Does Cardiac Catheterization Last?

Cardiac catheterization usually takes about 30 minutes, but the preparation and recovery time add several hours. You should plan on being at the hospital all day for the procedure.

What Happens During Cardiac Catheterization?

You will be given a hospital gown to wear during your cardiac catheterization. A nurse will start an intravenous (IV) line in your arm so that medications and fluids can be administered through your vein during the procedure.

The cardiac catheterization room is cool and dimly lit. You will lie on a special table. If you look above, you will see a large camera and several TV monitors. You can watch the pictures of your cardiac cath on the monitors.

The nurse will clean your skin (and possibly shave) the site where the catheter will be inserted (arm or groin). Sterile drapes are used to cover the site and help prevent infection. It is important that you keep your arms and hands down at your sides and not disturb the drapes.

Electrodes (small, flat, sticky patches) will be placed on your chest. The electrodes are attached to an electrocardiogram (ECG) machine that charts your heart's electrical activity.

A urinary catheter may be necessary for the procedure.

You will be given a mild sedative to help you relax, but you will be awake and conscious during the entire procedure. The doctor will use a local anesthetic to numb the catheter insertion site.

If the catheter is to be inserted into your arm (at the bend of the elbow, called the "brachial," or in the wrist, called the "radial" approach), a local anesthetic will be injected into a vein in your arm to numb the area. A needle will be placed inside the artery and then a wire advanced to the aorta. The catheter will then be advanced over the wire. Although you may feel pressure as the sheath and catheter are inserted, you should not feel pain. Tell your health care providers if you do feel pain.

If the catheter is to be inserted at the groin (called the "femoral" approach), a local anesthetic will be injected to numb the area. A small incision will be made over the blood vessel through which the catheter and introducer sheath will be inserted. The catheter will be inserted through the sheath and threaded to the arteries of your heart. Again, if you feel pain, tell your health care providers.

When the catheter is in place, the lights will be dimmed and a small amount of dye (or "contrast material") will be injected through the catheters into your arteries and heart chambers. The contrast material outlines the vessels, valves, and chambers.

When the contrast material is injected into your heart, you may feel hot or flushed for several seconds. This is normal and will go away in a few seconds. Please tell the doctor or nurses if you feel itching or tightness in the throat, nausea, chest discomfort, or any other symptoms.

The X-ray camera will be used to take photographs of the arteries and heart chambers. Your doctor may ask you to take a deep breath, hold your breath, or to cough during the procedure. You will be asked to hold your breath while the X-rays are taken. When all the photos have been taken, the catheter will be removed and the lights will be turned on.

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