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Heart Disease and Cardiac Catheterization

Cardiac catheterization (also called cardiac cath or coronary angiogram) is an invasive imaging procedure that tests for heart disease by allowing your doctor to "see" how well your heart is functioning. During the test, a long, narrow tube, called a catheter, is inserted into a blood vessel in your arm or leg and guided to your heart with the aid of a special X-ray machine. Contrast dye is injected through the catheter so that X-ray movies of your valves, coronary arteries, and heart chambers can be created.

Why Do I Need a Cardiac Cath?

Your doctor uses cardiac cath to:

At many hospitals, several interventional, or therapeutic, procedures to open blocked arteries are performed after the diagnostic part of the cardiac cath is complete. Interventional procedures include balloon angioplasty and stent placements.

What Are the Risks of a Cardiac Cath?

Cardiac cath is generally safe. However, as with any invasive procedure, there are risks. Special precautions are taken to decrease these risks. Your doctor will discuss the risks of the procedure with you.

Risks are rare but can include:

  • Bleeding around the point of puncture
  • Abnormal heart rhythms
  • Blood clots
  • Infection
  • Allergic reaction to the dye
  • Kidney damage from the dye
  • Stroke
  • Heart attack
  • Perforation of a blood vessel
  • Air embolism (introduction of air into a blood vessel, which can be life-threatening)

Be sure to ask your doctor any questions you may have before undergoing cardiac cath or other tests for heart disease.

How Should I Prepare for a Cardiac Cath?

Before a cardiac cath, most people will need to have a chest X-ray, blood tests, and electrocardiogram performed within two weeks before having the test.

You can wear whatever you like to the hospital. You will wear a hospital gown during the procedure.

Leave all valuables at home. If you normally wear dentures, glasses, or a hearing device, plan to wear them during the procedure.

Your doctor or nurse will give you specific instructions about what you can and cannot eat or drink before the procedure.

Tell your doctor all of the medications you are currently taking, including herbal preparations and dietary supplements.

Ask your doctor what medications should be taken on the day of your test. You may be told to stop taking certain drugs, such as Coumadin (a blood thinner), for a few days before the procedure.

If you have diabetes, ask your doctor how to adjust your diabetes medications the day of your cardiac cath.

Tell your doctor and/or nurses if you are allergic to anything, especially iodine, shellfish, X-ray dye, latex, or rubber products (such as rubber gloves or balloons) or penicillin-type medications.

You may or may not return home the day of your procedure. Bring items with you (such as a robe, slippers, and toothbrush) to make your stay more comfortable. When you are able to return home, arrange for someone to bring you home.

WebMD Medical Reference

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