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Heart Disease and Cardiac Catheterization

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Cardiac catheterization (also called cardiac cath or coronary angiogram) is an invasive imaging procedure that allows your doctor to "see" how well your heart is supplied by blood vessels. 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 videos 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 most medical centers, interventional procedures to open blocked arteries are performed after the diagnostic part of the cardiac cath is complete. Less commonly, the intervention is performed later as a separate procedure.  Interventional procedures include balloon angioplasty and stent placement. Rarely, more complicated procedures, such as brachytherapy, atherectomy, rotoblation, and cutting balloon are done.

What Are the Risks Associated With Cardiac Cath?

A 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 of a cardiac cath are uncommon but can include:

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

Be sure to ask your doctor any questions you may have before undergoing the procedure.

How Should I Prepare for a Cardiac Cath?

For a cardiac cath, most people will need to have blood tests and an electrocardiogram.

You can wear whatever you like to the hospital.

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

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