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Cardiac Catheterization

How It Feels

You will feel a sharp sting when the local anesthetic is injected to numb your skin over the catheter insertion site. When the catheter is inserted, you may feel a brief, sharp pain. The movement of the catheter through your blood vessel may cause a feeling of pressure, but it is not usually considered painful. People commonly experience skipped heartbeats for a few seconds when the catheter touches the walls of the heart.

If a dye (contrast material) is injected, you may feel warm and flushed and have a metallic taste in your mouth. Some people feel sick to their stomach or have a headache. You also may feel nauseous or lightheaded, have chest pain, irregular heartbeats, an urge to cough, mild itching, or hives from the contrast material. If you have any of these symptoms, tell your doctor how you are feeling.

The temperature in the catheterization lab is kept cool so that the equipment does not overheat. For many people, the hardest part of the test is having to lie still for an hour or more on the hard table. You may feel some stiffness or cramping.

Call your doctor immediately if you have chest pain, extreme shortness of breath, dizziness, trouble speaking or swallowing, or paralysis in any part of your body during or after the test.

You may experience some soreness and bruising at the insertion site. This is temporary and should disappear within 2 weeks. It is normal for the site to feel tender for about a week. Call your doctor immediately if:

  • Your arm or leg becomes pale, cold, painful, or numb.
  • Redness, swelling, or discharge from the catheter insertion site develops.
  • You have a fever.

Risks

Complications related to the catheter include:

  • Pain, swelling, and tenderness at the catheter insertion site.
  • Irritation of the vein by the catheter (superficial thrombophlebitis). This can usually be treated with warm compresses.
  • Bleeding at the catheter site.
  • A bruise where the catheter was inserted. This usually goes away in a few days.
  • Trouble urinating after the procedure.

Serious complications are rare, but they can be life-threatening. Serious complications are more likely to occur in people who are critically ill or elderly. These complications may include:

  • Sudden closure of the coronary artery.
  • Small tear in the inner lining of the artery.
  • Allergic reaction to the contrast material, with hives and itching and, rarely, shortness of breath, fever, and shock. These allergic reactions can usually be controlled with medicines.
  • Kidney damage. In rare cases, the contrast material can damage the kidneys, possibly causing kidney failure. People with diabetes and kidney disease are at greatest risk for kidney damage.
  • Heart attack or stroke.
  • Need for more procedures or surgery for complications.

Radiation risk. There is always a slight risk of damage to cells or tissues from being exposed to any radiation, including the low levels of X-ray used for this test. But the risk of damage from the X-rays is usually very low compared with the potential benefits of the test.

WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: July 20, 2011
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.

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