A procedure known as cardiac catheterization provides a great deal of useful information in the evaluation of heart disease. Doctors might order this test if you are experiencing chest pain, shortness of breath, abnormal heart beats, or other symptoms that suggest you might have heart disease.
You will be taken to a specially equipped room in the hospital that is referred to as “the cath lab” and placed under local anesthesia (you will not be put to sleep). Physicians or other personnel specially trained in the procedure will insert a thin tube called a “catheter” through an artery or vein, usually in an arm or leg. They will gently push this catheter into the major blood vessels and the heart. With special instruments contained in the catheter, physicians will be able to study how the heart and blood vessels are performing. They can measure blood pressure within the blood vessels, view the inside of the arteries by injecting dye that shows up on x-rays (called coronary angiography), widen arteries and heart valves that have become too narrow, obtain samples of blood, and measure the heart’s ability to pump blood.
One of the most common uses of catheterization is to view blockages in the arteries that are the source of chest pain. If not treated, these blockages can eventually lead to a heart attack, in which case the catheterization is done as an emergency procedure.
Often, physicians will even treat the blockage using “coronary angioplasty.” This is known as “balloon” angioplasty because a tiny balloon is inflated inside the vessel to push the blockage back against the artery wall, opening up the artery. Tiny mesh “stents” (that resemble a tiny spring) may also be put into the artery during catheterization to keep it propped open for a long time.
Catheterization, coronary angiography, and angioplasty are done routinely by cardiologists and are considered quite safe today. Side effects are uncommon and usually minor. The medical team performing catheterization is well equipped to handle any problems that you may experience during the procedure.
The heart hospitals of the Health Alliance — Christ, University, St. Luke, Jewish and Fort Hamilton — perform the largest number of catheterization procedures. In fact, more than half of all catheterization procedures performed every year are in a Health Alliance cath lab — more than 12,000 every year! And that experience has helped The Christ Hospital, The University Hospital and The Jewish Hospital become among the “Top 100 Cardiac Hospitals in the U.S.” according to HCIA.
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