Cardiac Catherization

What is Cardiac Catherization?

In cardiac catheterization (often called cardiac cath), your doctor puts a very small, flexible, hollow tube (called a catheter) into a blood vessel in the groin, arm, or neck. Then he or she threads it through the blood vessel into the aorta and into the heart. Once the catheter is in place, several tests may be done. Your doctor can place the tip of the catheter into various parts of the heart to measure the pressures within the heart chambers or take blood samples to measure oxygen levels.

Your doctor can guide the catheter into the coronary arteries, the vessels that carry blood to the heart muscle, and inject contrast dye to check blood flow through them. This is called coronary angiography.

These are some of the other procedures that may be done during or after a cardiac cath:

  • Angioplasty. In this procedure, your doctor can inflate a tiny balloon at the tip of the catheter. This presses any plaque buildup against the artery wall and improves blood flow through the artery.
  • Stent placement. In this procedure, your doctor expands a tiny metal mesh coil or tube at the end of the catheter inside an artery to keep it open.
  • Fractional flow reserve. This is a pressure management technique that’s used in catheterization to see how much blockage is in an artery
  • Intravascular ultrasound (IVUS). This test uses a computer and a transducer to send out ultrasonic sound waves to create images of the blood vessels. By using IVUS, the doctor can see and measure the inside of the blood vessels.
  • A small sample of heart tissue (called a biopsy). Your doctor may take out a small tissue sample and examine it under the microscope for abnormalities.
  • During the test, you will be awake, but a small amount of sedating medicine will be given before starting to help you be comfortable during the procedure.