Cardiac catheterization (also called cardiac cath or coronary angiogram) is a procedure that allows your doctor to "see" how well your heart is functioning. The test involves inserting a long, narrow tube, called a catheter, into a blood vessel in your arm or leg, and guiding it 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.
How Long Does it Last?
The cateterization procedure 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 Do they Do?
You will be given a hospital gown to wear. If you normally wear dentures, glasses or a hearing assist device, wear them during the procedure to help with communication.
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 ECG that charts your heart's electrical activity.
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 insertion site.
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.
When the contrast material is injected into your heart, you may feel hot or flushed for several seconds. This is normal and will go away in a few seconds. Please tell the doctor or nurses if you feel itching or tightness in the throat, nausea, chest discomfort or any other symptoms.
The X-ray camera will be used to take photographs of the arteries and heart chambers. You will be asked to hold your breath while the X-rays are taken. When all the photos have been taken, the catheter will be removed and the lights will be turned on.
What Happens After?
The catheters and sheath are removed. and with stitches, a collagen seal or applied pressure. A collagen seal is a protein material which works with your body's natural healing processes to form a clot in the artery. A sterile dressing will be placed on the groin area to prevent infection. You will be observed for a few hours to make sure you are feeling well after the procedure. You may receive medication to relieve discomfort in your arm after the anesthetic wears off. You will be given instructions regarding how to care for your arm or leg when you return home. Tell your nurse if you think you are bleeding or feel any numbness or tingling in your fingers, toes or feet.
Your doctor will tell you if you are able to return home or will need to stay overnight. In either case, you will be monitored for several hours after the procedure.