Cardiac Catheterization

What Is It?

Cardiac catheterization is a procedure in which a heart specialist inserts a small tube (catheter) through a large blood vessel in the arm or leg, and then passes the tube into the heart. Once inside the heart, doctors use the catheter to evaluate how the heart is working by measuring pressure and oxygen levels within the heart's chambers. Through the catheter, doctors inject a special dye that provides an X-ray image of the heart's internal structure and blood flow patterns.

The procedure is often done to look for narrowed and blocked coronary arteries. The X-ray dye also is injected into each of the three largest coronary arteries. This is called coronary angiography.

What It's Used For

Cardiac catheterization is used to evaluate patients who:

  • May have suspected coronary artery disease

  • Are having a heart attack or in immediate danger of having a heart attack

  • Will be undergoing heart surgery, especially coronary artery bypass surgery

  • Have heart valve problems, including abnormal narrowing (stenosis), leakage (insufficiency), or significant backflow of blood through a valve (regurgitation)

  • May have cardiomyopathy (heart muscle damage causing symptoms of heart failure)

Heart specialists can use heart catheters to carry special instruments into the heart. These instruments can open narrowed and blocked coronary arteries (a procedure called coronary angioplasty) or correct certain congenital (inborn) heart defects in children.

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