Cardiac Catheterization

If you’ve been diagnosed with a heart rhythm disorder, your doctor may have talked to you about a procedure called a cardiac catheterization. Cardiac catheterization can be used in the diagnosis and treatment of many different heart disorders and is relatively common for patients with heart rhythm disorders. 

What is cardiac catheterization?

Cardiac catheterization is a procedure to diagnose and treat certain heart conditions. During a cardiac cath, as it’s commonly called, a doctor inserts a catheter (a thin, hollow tube) in an artery or vein located in your arm, neck, or groin. The catheter is threaded into your heart. 

Once there, the doctors can use the catheter to explore the anatomy of your heart and find the specific part of the heart that is causing the symptoms you are experiencing. The catheter can also be used to treat some disorders. Doctors can place stents for arteries that are blocked, close holes in the heart, and repair or replace valves. 

In some patients, an extra electrical pathway in the heart causes an abnormal rhythm. Catheters can be used to ablate, or destroy, the extra pathway. If there is other tissue in the heart that is causing the irregular heartbeat, that can be ablated as well. This technique can be used to correct atrial fibrillation and other heart rhythm concerns.

What patients should know before a cardiac catheterization

When you are scheduled for a cardiac cath, you will be given specific instructions for what to expect with the procedure. Typically, you will not be allowed to eat or drink for at least six hours beforehand. Be sure to talk to your doctor about all medications and supplements you are currently taking. You may need to stop taking some medications, like blood thinners, several days prior to the procedure. Because it’s generally done as an outpatient procedure, you will likely go home the same day, but you will need someone to drive you home.

What to expect during a catheterization procedure

You will be awake and responsive during the procedure but will receive a sedative to help you remain calm and relaxed. The site where the catheter will be placed will be cleaned, shaved, and given local anesthetic. A small, thin catheter will be placed using a needle puncture and then threaded up to your heart.

Instruments on the tip of the catheter will allow your doctor to perform the planned procedure or test. Generally, a cardiac catheterization will take an hour or less. When all tests and procedures are finished, the catheter is removed and the puncture site is dressed. Several minutes of firm pressure will be applied to stop any bleeding. 

Expected recovery time

Complications are rare with cardiac catheterizations, but they can happen, so you will be monitored for a while after the procedure. You will be asked to stay in bed and remain relatively still, and it is important to share if you experience any chest pain or swelling or pain at the puncture site. 

Recovery at home depends on the procedure, but common restrictions may involve avoiding heavy lifting or straining for several days. Bruising at the site where the catheter was inserted is normal. If the site bleeds, several minutes of pressure generally stops the bleeding. Your doctor will instruct you on when you can resume all normal activity.

If your physician has recommended a cardiac catheterization and you have more questions or would like a second opinion, contact Oklahoma Heart Hospital to schedule an appointment with one of our specialists.