Cardiac catheterization, also known as cardiac cath, is a procedure that assesses the function of the heart. A tube is inserted into a blood vessel in the arm or groin, through the aorta, and into the heart. After placing the tube, the doctor may do various procedures, such as balloon angioplasty, to improve blood flow to the heart.
What is balloon angioplasty?
A separate procedure called balloon angioplasty can be performed during or after cardiac catheterization. A tiny balloon is placed at the tip of the catheter and then inflated. When the balloon is inflated, the fatty plaques are pushed against the artery. This leads to a widening of the blood vessels and improved blood flow circulation to the heart. Sometimes a small mesh tube, called a stent, is inserted to keep the blood vessel open.
Patient eligibility for catheterization
The healthcare provider may recommend cardiac catheterization to diagnose atherosclerosis, heart failure, heart valve disease, and cardiomyopathy. If a patient has chest pain, shortness of breath, and dizziness, the doctor may also consider cardiac catheterization. Chest pain after a heart attack or a bypass surgery may require catheterization. If other cardiac tests find a possible heart abnormality, a cardiac cath can help investigate further.
What to expect
Cardiac catheterization only takes about 30 minutes. However, the overall time to prepare and recover from the procedure takes about 5-9 hours. The addition of balloon angioplasty may take longer, about 2 hours. Patients are usually awake during the procedure but can be given medication to help with relaxation. Potential risks include infection, pain, bleeding, and bruising at the site, damage to a blood vessel, and irregular heart rhythm. Before proceeding, speak to the healthcare provider about all possible risks and concerns.
Returning to post-cath life
The time to recuperate after a cardiac catheterization is short compared to typical surgeries. After the procedure, patients usually need to avoid more strenuous activities such as lifting and working out for 2-5 days. Other activities requiring less exertion, such as driving and showering, are usually allowed 24 hours after the procedure. Avoid soaking the catheter site in water for at least a week.
Deciding on catheterization
Cardiac catheterization is a helpful procedure to diagnose or treat various heart symptoms and conditions. Balloon angioplasty is effective in improving blood circulation. Both procedures do not require much downtime, getting the patient back to heart-healthy activities quickly.