Cardiac Catheterization

Programs and Services - Heart Institute - TreatmentIf you are diagnosed with heart disease, your doctor may recommend that you take immediate action to avoid a heart attack. The treatment for coronary artery disease varies depending on individual needs. UM St. Joseph's Heart Institute offers the latest interventional approaches. 

Cardiac catheterization is a special x-ray study of the heart and coronary arteries (vessels that supply oxygen-rich blood to the heart muscle). The purpose of cardiac catheterization is to help your doctor check the pumping function of the heart and to examine the coronary arteries and heart valves.

The information your doctor obtains during catheterization helps to identify the problem accurately and enables your doctor to choose the most effective treatment.

The night before the catheterization, you may be asked not to eat or drink anything after midnight.

During the procedure, your doctor inserts a flexible, narrow plastic tube called a catheter into an artery in your arm or upper leg (groin) and gently guides it toward your heart. A contrast dye is injected into the catheter to reveal the blood flow through your coronary arteries. A series of "moving x-rays" is taken so your doctor can see:

  • If the blood vessels in your heart are clogged.
  • If your heart is pumping normally and the blood is flowing correctly.

The cardiac cath usually takes between thirty minutes to an hour. You will remain awake because your responses to the doctor’s questions may be needed during the procedure. If necessary, you may receive medication to help you relax. You may watch portions of the procedure on a television screen, if you wish.

Cardiac catheterization usually is not painful. You will experience mild discomfort at the insertion site when you are given the local anesthetic. The injection feels like a bee sting and is probably the most uncomfortable part of the procedure. You may feel a hot or flushing sensation when the contrast dye is introduced into your heart. You will not be able to feel the catheter moving through your blood vessels or into your heart. After the catheterization, to prevent bleeding, you will need to remain lying down for two to six hours, with the affected leg straight. Most people have no pain after the procedure. Once you go home, you will be advised to restrict your activity for the first 24 hours.

Because catheterization is an invasive procedure, it has some risk. The risk is small, however, and the procedure is considered relatively safe. Complications associated with catheterization can include bleeding from the site, hematoma (collection of blood under the skin), irregular heartbeat, and/or bruising. You and your doctor should discuss specific concerns before you choose to have the procedure.

For a physician referral to a cardiologist, call 410.337.1216.