How Serious Is a Heart Catheterization?

The procedure helps doctors find and fix any heart problems.
The procedure helps doctors find and fix any heart problems.

Cardiac catheterization is a minimally invasive procedure that is considered to be safe for most patients. The procedure helps doctors find and fix any heart problems. It is a low-risk procedure and complications are usually rare, but as with any procedure, complications may arise.

These may include:

  • Anesthesia risks, such as vomiting and dizziness
  • An allergic reaction to the contrast dye
  • An infection where the catheter is inserted
  • Damage to the artery used to insert the catheter
  • Damage to the heart itself
  • Bruising where the catheter is inserted
  • Bleeding at the catheter insertion sites
  • Heart attack
  • Stroke
  • Air embolism (when air gets into a blood vessel; this can be deadly)
  • A cholesterol clot due to dislodged plaque
  • Uneven or irregular heart rhythm (arrhythmia)
  • Risk of death (very rare)

When is heart catheterization required?

Since heart catheterization is an invasive procedure, it’s not the first test doctors use to diagnose a problem. It is often performed in patients who are having a heart attack/chest pain or angina. It is also performed when a patient gets abnormal results from their blood test or stress test. If the doctor suspects blockage or narrowing of an artery, the patient may benefit from a heart catheterization procedure.

What is heart catheterization?

Cardiac catheterization is a medical procedure to find out detailed information about the heart and its connected arteries. The procedure is usually performed under local or general anesthesia by making a tiny cut in the groin or wrist. A catheter (a thin, flexible tube) is inserted into a large blood vessel that leads to the heart. The procedure usually takes less than 1-2 hours.

This procedure helps in diagnosing and treating heart conditions.

Diagnosing heart diseases:

  • Angiogram: It helps in viewing the inside of arteries of the heart, kidney, and lungs, as well as peripheral arteries (arms and legs).
  • Nitrous oxide challenge: It helps in diagnosing a lung disease called chronic obstructive pulmonary disease by measuring pressure in the heart and pulmonary artery (artery of lungs).
  • Intravascular ultrasound (IVUS): Examines the inside of arteries using sound waves.
  • Swan-Ganz catheterization: Monitors heart function and blood flow.

Treating heart diseases:

In possible situations, doctors may use heart catheterization to treat the disease.

  • Angioplasty and stent placement: Open narrowed or blocked arteries by inflating a tiny balloon (also called balloon angioplasty). In many instances, doctors place a stent, which is a small, metal tube in the artery to keep it open.
  • Atherectomy: Removes plaque buildup in blood vessels using a catheter with a sharp blade (metal burr).
  • Atrial septal defect and patent foramen ovale repairs: Closes openings in the heart that are there at birth (congenital abnormalities).
  • Coronary thrombectomy: Removes a blood clot from a blood vessel that supplies blood to the heart.
  • Pericardiocentesis: Removes fluid that has accumulated around the heart.
  • Septal ablations: Destroys diseased heart tissue by creating a small, controlled heart attack.
  • Temporary pacemaker implantation: Treats short-term heart problems, such as a slow heartbeat caused by a heart attack, heart surgery, or a medicine overdose.
  • Temporary ventricular assist device (VAD) implantation: Stabilizes someone who’s critically ill until diagnosis and treatment decisions can be determined.
  • Transcatheter aortic valve replacement (TAVR): Replaces the aortic valve in the heart. This offers a minimally invasive alternative to some people who can’t have open-heart surgery.
  • Valvuloplasty: Improves blood flow in the heart by opening the important valves in the heart with a tiny balloon (similar to angioplasty).

What is the recovery like?

In most cases, an overnight stay may be recommended. After the procedure is complete, the patient may be taken to a recovery room for a few hours. If the catheter was inserted in the wrist, the patient can sit upright right after the procedure. If the catheter was inserted in the leg, the patient may need to keep it straight. One week after the procedure, the patient may be able to return to normal activity.


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