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Diagnostic Testing & Imaging

What is cardiac catheterization?

Catheters were introduced into the medical scene as a way to get information or provide therapies that previously were not available, and a catheterization is considered a minimally invasive procedure to do one or both of these. In cardiology, these catheterization techniques are often combined with fluoroscopic imaging (a type of x-ray) and contrast dye to provide real-time information about your heart or your coronary arteries, the vessels that provide blood to your heart tissue.

Cardiac catheterization imaging screens

How is cardiac catheterization performed?

Before the cardiac catheterization begins, you will be given medication to help you relax and stay comfortable throughout the procedure, but you may still be awake. Your doctor will access one of your peripheral blood vessels with the catheter (usually in the leg or the groin, but sometimes in the arm). This is done by numbing the intended location and using a combination of needles and wires to allow the catheter to safely and effectively move into the blood vessel. Once this is done, your doctor will guide the catheter to your heart where it can start collecting information through pressure sensors or by injecting contrast dye while watching with fluoroscopy. After the cardiac catheterization, you may be asked to stay flat on your back for a few hours to observe for bleeding at the access site, but afterward, you will be able to go home.

Cardiac Catheterization

What is cardiac catheterization used for?


The most common indication for a cardiac catheterization is coronary artery disease (CAD). For those with known CAD, the catheterization can be used to evaluate which arteries are diseased, so treatment (stent or CABG) can be focused in the right places. In cases of myocardial infarction, this catheterization is a life saving measure to re-establish blood flow in the obstructed vessel. Rarely, cardiac catheterizations are done to evaluate other heart conditions, including heart failure or valvular disease. This is usually done to get more information to better understand the disease process or to plan the best way to treat the disease.


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[1] Kosova, E., & Ricciardi, M. (2017). Cardiac Catheterization. JAMA, 317(22), 2344.

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