Cardiac Catheterization


Catherine Spader, RN

What is 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:

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  • 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

Why is cardiac catheterization performed? 

Your doctor may recommend a cardiac catheterization to diagnose and treat certain heart diseases and conditions. The procedure evaluates the function of the heart, heart valves, and the major blood vessels of the heart. This can determine the underlying cause of certain symptoms, such as chest pain. 

Cardiac catheterization can also help your doctor plan the best treatment for you. Doctors sometimes perform certain treatments right away during the cardiac catheterization. This commonly includes angioplasty to widen narrowed or obstructed heart arteries. Your doctor may also use cardiac catheterization to check your progress after angioplasty or another procedure.

Your doctor may recommend a cardiac catheterization for the following heart diseases and conditions: 

  • Aortic stenosis, a disorder of the valve between your heart and your aorta. Your aorta is the main artery leaving your heart.

  • Blood clots, or coronary thrombosis

  • Chest pain due to abnormal heart function, atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries), or other conditions
  • Coronary artery disease (CAD), a buildup of plaque on the walls of the coronary arteries that supply blood to the heart

  • Coronary blood vessel malformations present at birth. Many abnormalities do not cause symptoms, but may cause problems at various times from birth through adulthood

  • Heart attack, which is largely due to atherosclerosis or a blood clot blocking blood flow to the heart

  • Heart failure when the underlying cause cannot be determined by other tests

  • Unclear stress test results for symptoms such as shortness of breath or chest pain

  • Unstable angina, which is chest pain that occurs suddenly in the absence of activity. Unstable angina is primarily due to atherosclerosis.

Ask your doctor about all of your treatment options and consider getting a second opinion before deciding on a cardiac catheterization. 

Who performs cardiac catheterization?

Cardiologists and interventional cardiologists often perform cardiac catheterizations. A cardiologist is a doct