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Heart Disease and Cardiac Catheterization

How Long Does Cardiac Catheterization Last?

Cardiac cath usually takes about 30 minutes, but the preparation and recovery time add several hours. Plan on being at the hospital all day for the procedure.

What Happens During a Cardiac Cath?

You will be given a hospital gown to wear during your cardiac cath. A nurse will start an intravenous (IV) line in your arm so that medications and fluids can be administered through your vein during the procedure.

The cardiac catheterization room is cool and dimly lit. You will lie on a special table. If you look above, you will see a large camera and several TV monitors. You can watch the pictures of your cardiac cath on the monitors.

The nurse will clean your skin (and possibly shave) the site where the catheter will be inserted (arm or groin). Sterile drapes are used to cover the site and help prevent infection. It is important that you keep your arms and hands down at your sides and not disturb the drapes.

Electrodes (small, flat, sticky patches) will be placed on your chest. The electrodes are attached to an electrocardiogram (ECG) machine that charts your heart's electrical activity.

A urinary catheter may be necessary for the procedure.

You will be given a mild sedative to help you relax, but you will be awake and conscious during the entire procedure. The doctor will use a local anesthetic to numb the catheter insertion site.

If the catheter is to be inserted into your arm (at the bend of the elbow, called the "brachial" approach, or at the wrist, called the "radial" approach), a local anesthetic will be injected into a vein in your arm to numb the area. A small incision will be made over the blood vessel through which the catheter introducer sheath (a tube through which the catheter is passed) and catheter will be inserted. The catheter will be inserted through the sheath and threaded to the arteries of your heart. Although you may feel pressure as the incision is made or when the sheath and catheter are inserted, you should not feel pain; tell your health care providers if you do.

If the catheter is to be inserted at the groin (called the "femoral" approach), a local anesthetic will be injected to numb the area. A small incision will be made over the blood vessel through which the catheter and introducer sheath will be inserted. The catheter will be inserted through the sheath and threaded to the arteries of your heart. Again, if you feel pain, tell your health care providers.

When the catheter is in place, the lights will be dimmed and a small amount of dye (or contrast material) will be injected through the catheters into your arteries and heart chambers. The contrast material outlines the vessels, valves, and chambers.

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