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Heart Disease and the Heart Biopsy

A heart biopsy, also called myocardial biopsy or cardiac biopsy, is an invasive procedure to detect heart disease. It entails using a bioptome (a small catheter with a grasping device on the end) to obtain a small piece of heart muscle tissue that is sent to a laboratory for analysis.

Why Do I Need a Heart Biopsy?

Your doctor uses a heart biopsy to:

  • Evaluate or confirm the presence of rejection after a heart transplant.
  • Diagnose myocarditis (inflammation of the heart muscle) or certain other cardiac disorders such as cardiomyopathy or cardiac amyloidosis  if common diagnostic tools like echocardiogram, EKG, or chest X-rays are not as helpful, or if a patient's heart condition is dramatically worsening without apparent cause. A heart biopsy can correctly pinpoint a specific diagnosis in 10%-20% of cases. 

How Should I Prepare for a Heart Biopsy?

To prepare yourself for a heart biopsy, you should know:

  • The biopsy takes place in the hospital as an outpatient procedure. Typically, you come to the hospital the day of the test, but in some cases, you may be admitted the night before the procedure.
  • You can wear whatever you like to the hospital, but it is a good idea to leave valuables, such as jewelry, at home. You will wear a hospital gown during the procedure.
  • Your doctor or nurse will give you specific instructions about what you can and cannot eat or drink before the procedure. In general, food and fluids are restricted for 6 to 8 hours before the test.
  • Ask your doctor what medications should be taken on the day of your heart biopsy. Be sure to tell your doctor if you are taking any nutrition supplements or herbal preparations, and tell your doctor which over-the-counter medications you are taking. Please bring a list of all of your medications and the current dosages with you.
  • If you have diabetes, ask your doctor how to adjust your medications the day of your test.
  • Tell your doctor and/or nurses if you are allergic to anything.
  • Arrange for someone to drive you home after the test, as you may be groggy from the sedative given to numb the site where the catheter is inserted.
  • If you normally wear dentures or a hearing device, plan to wear them during the procedure to help with communication. If you wear glasses, plan to bring them as well.

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