A cardiac catheterization (or cath for short) is a test that gives the health care team a better understanding of your child’s heart or allows the heart doctor (cardiologist) to fix a problem without surgery. This is NOT a surgery; there is no cutting, there are no stitches.

A cardiac cath is done by placing two IV’s, usually in the leg right where it bends at the hip. Through these IV’s, the doctor puts long catheters (skinny straws) into the heart. These catheters let us check the oxygen level and check pressures in different parts of the heart, and can sometimes let us fix problems in the heart. We also take special pictures of the heart.

Diagnostic Catheterization

A diagnostic cath is done so the team has more information to make decisions. The information will help us to decide on medications, a different test or if your child needs surgery. 

When your child has a diagnostic cath, you will come to the hospital on the morning of the test, have the cath (typically takes about 3-4 hours), and then when your child wakes up, you can both go home about 4-5 hours later.

Interventional Catheterization

An interventional cath means something is going to be fixed. 

The same catheters are placed in the leg and we still take pictures, get pressures and oxygen levels. But now we can also close certain holes in the heart or make small parts of the heart bigger. 

If we fix something, you and your child will usually stay overnight. Your child may receive antibiotics while in the hospital. We also usually repeat a chest x-ray and echo (ultrasound of the heart) the morning after the procedure.

Frequently Asked Questions

If you have any questions that you would like answered before your pre-cath visit, please feel free to either e-mail nurse practitioner Peggy Dorr at pdorr@peds.umaryland.edu, or call the office at 410-328-4348 and ask for the nurse practitioner. 

Feel free to bring a list of questions with you. We will take all the time you need so that you understand the procedure and that all of your questions are answered.

Will there be activity restrictions after the procedure?

If your child had a diagnostic cath, we recommend two or three days of light activity. Your child can go back to their regular activities after these three days, except for sports. We recommend no PE class or competitive sports for one week after the cath.

If your child had a procedure where something was closed, then we usually recommend no contact sports for one month but your child can still participate in non-contact activities.

Each procedure can be different and the cardiology team will discuss specific restrictions with you after the procedure is complete.

How much school will my child miss?

Your child will need to be seen right before the cath to make sure he/she is healthy, and to go over the pre-cath instructions. This usually takes about one hour.

Your child will miss the day of the procedure and a day or two after the procedure, so no more than three days total.

What complications could arise after the procedure?

When you come in for the pre-cath visit, we will review all possible complications that might occur during and after the cath. After a cath, we are typically worried about bleeding from the site, soreness or infection at the site or nausea and vomiting due to the anesthesia.

Can I stay overnight with my child if necessary?

Yes. If your child stays overnight, he/she will be admitted to our Pediatric Intensive Care Unit and stay there until leaving the hospital the next morning.

Two people can visit at a time and a parent can sleep in the room with the child. Other children less than 12 years old are asked to not visit in this critical care setting. If you have questions regarding this policy, talk to the nurse practitioner when you come in for your pre-cath visit.

When can my child eat or drink again?

At the pre-cath visit, we will talk about when your child needs to stop eating and drinking before the cath.

After the cath, your child will lie flat for up to four hours. During this time, we suggest ice chips or sips of water. When your child can sit up, we usually start with clear liquids and simple food (crackers, graham crackers, broth etc). Typically, by the next day your child is back to eating his/her regular foods.