Heart &
Vascular

Understanding Cardiac Catheterization

A cardiac catheterization uses X-rays, so please let us know before the procedure if there is any chance you could be pregnant. This is also a good time to ask any questions and share any feelings or concerns you may have about the test. Your doctor might order a medication to relax you before your catheterization. You will be awake during the procedure. The catheterization is not usually painful, but you may experience some discomfort.

When you arrive, a staff member will begin preparing you for your procedure. You will be given a full explanation of the procedure to help you fully understand the purpose and process of your test. One or two IVs will be started, and the procedure site (generally the groin area) will be shaved. When you are taken into the catheterization lab, you will be helped onto a long X-ray table. The patch of skin where the catheter will enter your body will be cleansed with an antiseptic solution, and the staff will drape you with sterile sheets, leaving only the small shaved area exposed. Your head and face will not be covered.

The lab is kept at a very cool temperature to ensure maximum efficiency of the laboratory equipment.

What to expect during your procedure

Local anesthetic
First, you will be given a local anesthetic to numb the area where the catheter will be inserted. You will feel a pinch, accompanied by pressure and a stinging sensation that should last only a few seconds.

Inserting the catheter
When the local anesthetic has taken effect, an “introducer sheath” will be inserted in your artery. The sheath is a short plastic tube through which the catheter will be passed. You may feel pressure in your groin area when the sheath is inserted, but this should not be painful. Next, the catheter will be inserted and advanced though an artery from your groin to your heart. This takes only a few seconds. You will feel no sensation of the catheter in your body. This procedure is not intended to cause pain; if you experience any pain, shortness of breath, watery eyes or itchy skin during the procedure, please inform the staff.

Injecting the contrast medium
Contrast medium (dye) will be injected through the catheter, making it possible to see the heart muscles, valves and coronary arteries on an X-ray screen. The injection of the contrast can produce nausea or a warming sensation that subsides very quickly. During the injection of the “pumping chamber” of the heart, you may experience excessive warmth or a hot flash. This, too, is caused by the contrast and will pass quickly. You will be asked to lie still during the procedure. You may be asked to turn your head from side to side or take a deep breath or cough. You will also notice the X-ray camera moving around you. It will not touch you during the procedure.

How long will the procedure take?
The catheterization will take about 20 to 30 minutes. If it is necessary to proceed to an intervention (angioplasty or stent insertion), the procedure could take an additional 30 to 60 minutes. At that point, we will update your family as to your progress. If you have only a catheterization, you will be taken to a holding area to have the sheath removed from your groin and pressure applied for approximately 20 minutes. From there you will return to your room to recover for about 2 hours, during which time you will not be permitted to get out of bed. After your bed rest, the staff will have you walk around the department. You will then be discharged directly from your room.

If you need an intervention (angioplasty or stent), you will be admitted to the hospital for an overnight stay. If further evaluation and/or treatment is needed, you may be asked to stay at the hospital. Please pack an overnight bag should an overnight stay be necessary.

When you go home

You will receive a detailed instruction list before your discharge to help you make a smooth recovery. Our staff will review the instructions with you thoroughly. Please feel free to ask any questions you have regarding your recovery.

When you return home, you will need to rest until the next morning. We strongly suggest that you have someone stay with you through the night.

Follow-up care
As part of our routine follow-up care, our staff will call you the day after your procedure or visit you in your hospital room. We want to ensure that you are recovering well after your procedure and give you another opportunity to ask questions.

Please don’t hesitate to contact any staff member with additional comments, questions or concerns.

Contact your doctor, call 911, or proceed to the nearest emergency room if you experience any of these symptoms:

  • Increased swelling or pain at the site
  • Redness or drainage at the site
  • Numbness, coldness, tingling or cramping in the catheterized leg
  • Persistent bleeding at the site.