Your heart pumps blood through your body. When it is damaged or struggling to do its job, doctors must be very careful and meticulous to find and treat the problem right away. Through a process called cardiac catheterization, doctors can take a better look into the heart structures, arteries, and veins to look for damage or blockage. They are also able to treat those areas with precision and little down time for the patient.

What is Cardiac Catheterization?

According to the Mayo Clinic, cardiac catheterization is “a procedure used to diagnose and treat certain cardiovascular conditions.” This procedure involves a long, skinny tube, also called a catheter, that is inserted into your arteries or veins leading to the blood vessels in your heart. In this way, doctors can take a better look at the inside of your arteries and veins to look for blockage or damage that may cause further problems and potentially fix them. Cardiac catheterization is also used for coronary angioplasties and coronary stenting. This entire process can be done while you are awake, with only a mild sedative given to help you relax during the procedure.

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Why/When Do I Need This Procedure?

This procedure is not only beneficial as a treatment for current cardio ailments, but it can help spot them before they become a problem! If you are having this procedure done as a test, it can do the following:

  • Locate blockages in your blood vessels
  • Measure the pressure and oxygen within your heart
  • Check that your heart is beating properly
  • Diagnose heart defects present from birth that may have been missed
  • Inspect heart valves for damage

Cardiac catheterization can also be used as a treatment method. The catheter can transport stents and other medical devices to address the following issues:

  • To perform an angioplasty (widening a blocked/narrowed artery)
  • To insert a stent during an angioplasty (not used every time)
  • Opening thin heart valves
  • To repair or replace damaged heart valves or muscles
  • To prevent clotting in the heart valves by blocking off certain parts of the heart

What is the Process?

Cardiac catheterization is an out-patient procedure done under only light sedation. You will be awake the entire time, but relaxed. Though, during some treatments, stronger sedatives or anesthesia may be used. Before the procedure begins, the doctors will place an IV in your arm as well as heart monitors on your chest to monitor you throughout the procedure. After some local anesthesia, a small incision is made to place the catheter and access the arteries/veins. Once the catheter is inserted, depending on the reasoning behind the procedure, several processes can occur:

  • Angiogram: Dye is inserted into the catheter to show all blockages in the arteries.
  • Balloon Angioplasty: A catheter is inserted and directed to the blocked artery. A second catheter with the balloon is inserted through the first catheter to inflate and widen the blocked artery.
    • If a stent is used, the stent is fed through the catheter to the blocked artery to keep blood flowing through it
  • Heart/ Heart Valve Repair: Devices are inserted into the catheter to close the hole in your heart, such as a plug, clip, and others. 
  • Valve Replacement: A replacement valve is inserted through the catheter to replace the damaged valve.

Having any procedure done to your heart can seem frightening. However, cardiac catheterization is a common procedure that can help find cardiac problems before they take over your life. Technological advances have allowed for this procedure to detect problems earlier and easier than ever before! It can also be used to treat current problems that you may be experiencing with little recovery time! As your cardiologist or doctor how this procedure can help you on your way to cardiac wellness.