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What is cardiac catheterization?

Cardiac Catheterization

Cardiac catheterization is a procedure used to diagnose and treat heart conditions, such as coronary artery disease. Coronary artery disease is a common but serious disease caused by a blockage or narrowing of the arteries that supply blood to the heart. This can lead to a heart attack. 

Doctors perform cardiac catheterization to make detailed images of the heart and perform other tests and treatments. These include heart valve repair and angioplasty to open blocked coronary arteries.

Cardiac catheterization is a minimally invasive procedure that involves passing a long, thin tube (catheter) into your heart by inserting it though a blood vessel in your neck, groin or arm.

Cardiac catheterization is only one method that your doctor can use to diagnose and treat certain heart conditions. Discuss all your options with your doctor to understand which options are right for you. 

Other procedures that may be performed

Cardiac catheterization allows doctors to perform a variety of tests and treatments:

  • Angioplasty to widen a narrowed or obstructed heart artery
  • Blood clot removal, which involves injection of a clot-dissolving medication into the artery via the catheter
  • Coronary angiography, which involves taking real-time X-ray images of your heart and blood vessels. Your doctor sees the images on a video screen as he or she performs your cardiac catheterization. Angiography can detect which coronary arteries are blocked.
  • Heart tissue biopsy, which involves removing a sample of heart muscle cells and testing it for cancer and other diseases
  • Measuring blood pressure in the heart
  • Measuring oxygen levels in the heart
  • Repair of some birth defects of the heart, such as an atrial septal defect. An atrial septal defect is a hole between the upper chambers of the heart.
  • Repair or replacement of diseased heart valves. Heart valve replacement via a catheter is not a standard procedure and is only available at certain medical centers.
  • Stent placement with a mesh tube, which is permanently inserted into the blood vessel to keep the vessel open
  • Taking a blood sample from the heart
Medical Reviewers: Daphne E. Hemmings, MD, MPH Last Review Date: Jul 10, 2013

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Medical References

Angiogram. Society for Vascular Surgery. http://www.vascularweb.org/vascularhealth/Pages/angiogram.aspx. Accessed April 22, 2013
Angiography. The Department of Radiology and Radiological Sciences of the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences. http://rad.usuhs.mil/rad/home/angio.html. Accessed April 22, 2013.
Angiography or Angiogram. Society of Interventional Radiology. http://www.sirweb.org/patients/angiography/. Accessed April 22, 2013.
Angiography Test. Cleveland Clinic. http://my.clevelandclinic.org/services/Angiography/hic_Angiography_Test.aspx. Accessed April 22, 2013.
Catheter Angiography. American College of Radiology. http://www.radiologyinfo.org/en/info.cfm?pg=angiocath. Accessed April 22, 2013.
Coronary Computed Tomography Angiography (CTA). American College of Radiology. http://www.radiologyinfo.org/en/info.cfm?pg=angiocoroct. Accessed April 22, 2013.
What is Cardiac Catheterization? National Heart Lung and Blood Institute. http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/dci/Diseases/cath/cath_what.html. Accessed April 22, 2013.

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