What is a cardiac catheterization for and how is it performed?

Cardiac catheterization is a very useful procedure for diagnosing and treating circulatory conditions. Although it carries its risks.

Last update: May 15, 2022

Physicians have a wide variety of procedures useful in the diagnosis and treatment of multiple conditions. Cardiac catheterization is one of them. Do you want to know more about this technique?

Cardiac catheterization is a surgical procedure which expanded its scope and application in recent years, according to some studies. It consists of the introduction of a thin tube through a blood vessel until it reaches the heart.

Thus, it provides very important information about the state of the heart muscle, its valves and blood vessels. In this sense, it is possible to carry out tests, extract samples and apply medications during the performance.

What is a cardiac catheterization for?

Cardiac catheterization can be applied both in the diagnosis and treatment of multiple cardiovascular conditions. The procedure is useful in diagnosing the following conditions:

  • Coronary artery disease.
  • Pathologies of the microcirculation.
  • congenital heart disease
  • Heart failure.
  • Valvulopathies.

For its part, useful for evaluating how blood vessels connect. In addition, it allows checking the pressure inside the heart, as well as treating arrhythmias, angina pectoris and valvular problems.

Procedures performed by cardiac catheterization

Ultimately, it also makes it easier to have multiple medical procedures done simultaneously:

  • Coronary Angiography: Contrast dye is used through the catheter to find blockages in the arteries that supply the heart. The organ will be observed through X-rays.
  • Cardiac ablation: It is one of the main measures to treat driving disorders.
  • Hemodynamic evaluation and ventriculogram: It allows to measure the pressure inside the cavities of the heart and also to measure the oxygen pressure in the organ. For its part, the ventriculogram shows how both ventricles expel blood.
  • Angioplasty and placement of stent: Angioplasty is a procedure that seeks to increase the caliber of a blocked blood vessel. For his part, the stent it is a metal mesh that prevents the blood vessel from collapsing again.
  • Cardiac biopsy: It consists of the extraction of a sample of cardiac tissue for its subsequent analysis and study under the microscope.
  • Valvuloplasty: is the repair of a defective heart valve.
  • Closure of holes in the myocardium and repair of other abnormalities.
It is possible to recognize the normal or altered anatomy of the heart with this study.

Preparation before the procedure

As it is an invasive technique, it is necessary to have a very rigorous previous preparation. The specialist doctor will be in charge of giving all the indications in the days prior to the cardiac catheterization. It is recommended not to consume any type of food in the last 6 or 8 hours.

In addition, it is necessary to avoid all types of liquids, including water, at least 4 hours before. All these measures will prevent vomiting from the effects of anesthesia.

On the other hand, it is necessary to inform the specialist about any medication that is consumed regularly, as some of them will have to be discontinued. Anticoagulants should be avoided in the days before, as they increase the risk of bleeding.

Some contrast media increase the side effects of drugs.

How is a cardiac catheterization performed?

Before starting the cardiac catheterization, the nursing team will likely measure your blood pressure and ask you to urinate to empty your bladder. They will also place electrodes and remove hair from the area where the catheter will be inserted.

The procedure It is usually done in an operating room. where there are several equipment for taking images. The health team will proceed to lay him down on a special stretcher and hold him with some straps to prevent displacement. Once you lie down, an intravenous line will be placed, through which the anesthesia will be placed.

Anesthesia can be general, in which you are completely asleep, or partial, in which you are awake and able to follow instructions. when it takes effect, the specialist will proceed to make a small cut in the groin, wrist or neck to pass 1 or 2 catheters that will reach the heart.

First you need to numb the area where the catheter will go. Then, a cut is made in the blood vessel to be addressed.

By last, a plastic sheath is inserted with the catheter and guided into the heart. During the journey, your doctor may ask you to assume different positions or tilt the table to different angles.


Recovery after cardiac catheterization will depend on the procedure performed and the person’s state of health. In general terms, several hours must be spent in a recovery room while the effects of anesthesia wear off.

Catheter removal time can vary, depending on several factors. If done in the groin, a device called a introducer for 6 or 8 hours. The specialist doctor will be in charge of removing these pieces.

After catheter removal, the doctor will have to compress the area between 10 and 15 minutes, as well as placing a compression bandage to prevent bleeding. Afterwards, people will not have any kind of limitation. However, if the catheterization was done through the groin, the leg should be immobile for 24 hours.

Risks and complications

Although it is a very safe procedure with a high success rate, its performance carries multiple risks. In fact, a study published in Current Cardiology Reviews defines that acute kidney injury is one of the complications of cardiac catheterization. In addition, it is associated with a longer hospital stay.

Among the main risks of cardiac catheterization, the following stand out:

  • bleeding.
  • blood clots
  • Irregular heart rhythm.
  • Bruise formation.
  • Cardiac tamponade.
  • Arterial hypotension.
  • infections.
The hospital stay is prolonged when there is a complication with the procedure or the underlying pathology is very serious.

Contraindications for cardiac catheterization

As with all medical procedures, there are several cases in which its performance is not recommended. Fortunately, contraindications for cardiac catheterization are relativethat is, it can be done when its benefits outweigh the risks.

However, it is necessary to be very careful, since the chances of complications increase. In this sense, within the relative contraindications, the following stand out:

  • Fever.
  • Coagulopathies.
  • Acute kidney injury.
  • Renal insufficiency.
  • Uncontrolled arrhythmias.
  • Systemic infections.
  • Uncontrolled arterial hypertension.

An effective procedure with few complications

Cardiac catheterization is a quick and simple procedure, which is useful for diagnosing and treating multiple conditions. Despite being invasive, there is little prior preparation and recovery is short in most cases.

However, it must be taken into account that its performance carries several risks that can range from bleeding to kidney damage. It is best to consult a specialist if you have any questions or concerns.

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