Cardiac Catheterization

Make an Appointment
For the Charlottesville area:
For Northern Virginia:

Cardiac catheterization is a test that uses a catheter and X-ray machine to find the cause of symptoms, like chest pain, that could suggest heart problems.

Cardiac catheterization helps doctors:

  • Identify narrowed or clogged arteries of the heart
  • Measure blood pressure within the heart
  • Evaluate how well the heart valves and chambers are working
  • Check heart defects
  • Evaluate an enlarged heart
  • Decide on an appropriate treatment

What to Expect 

Prior to Procedure

Your doctor may order:

  • Blood and urine tests
  • Electrocardiogram (EKG)
  • Chest x-ray
  • Stress test

Leading up to your procedure:

  • Arrange for a ride to and from the procedure.
  • The night before, do not eat or drink anything after midnight.

Description of the Procedure

You'll receive IV fluids and medications during the procedure. An EKG monitors your heart's activity.

You'll be awake but given local anesthesia so that you'll be more relaxed. Your doctor will ask you to perform basic functions such as coughing, breathing out and holding your breath. Tell your doctor if you feel any chest pain, lightheadedness, nausea, tingling or other discomfort.

The doctor inserts the catheter into an artery through either the groin or arm. A needle is inserted into a blood vessel, and a wire is passed through the needle until it reaches your heart. A soft, flexible catheter tube is slipped over the wire and threaded up to your heart.

X-ray pictures depict the placement of the the wire and catheter. Dye is injected into the arteries of the heart so they show up on the X-ray images. You may feel warm during the dye injection.

Once in place, the catheter takes measurements like blood pressure and blood samples. Multiple X-ray images are taken to look for any disease in the arteries. The catheter is removed after all images and tests are complete.

balloon angioplasty and stenting may be needed if there's an area in your arteries that is narrow or clogged. These procedures help to open narrowed arteries.

Does the Procedure Hurt?

Although the procedure is generally not painful, it can cause some discomfort, including:

  • Burning sensation when the skin at the catheter insertion site is anesthetized
  • Pressure when the catheter is inserted or replaced with other catheters
  • A flushing feeling or nausea when the dye is injected
  • Headache
  • Heart palpitations

Pain medication will be given when needed.

The procedure takes about 30-90 minutes. Preparation before the procedure and recovery after it will add several hours to the total time.

Risk Factors of Cardiac Catheterization

Complications may include:

  • Bleeding at the point of the catheter insertion
  • Damage to arteries
  • Heart attack, or abnormal heart beats known as arrhythmia
  • Allergic reaction to X-ray dye
  • Blood clot formation
  • Infection

Some factors that may increase the risk of complications include:

  • Allergies to medications or X-ray dye
  • Obesity
  • Smoking
  • Bleeding disorder
  • Increased age
  • Recent pneumonia
  • Recent heart attack
  • Diabetes
  • Kidney disease

Content was created using EBSCO’s Health Library. Edits to original content made by Rector and Visitors of the University of Virginia. This information is not a substitute for professional medical advice.