Cardiac Catheterization

Left Heart Catheterization

A heart catheterization, also known as a coronary angiogram, is a procedure performed by cardiologists to evaluate for blockages, such as plaque or calcification, in the arteries that supply blood to the heart (coronary arteries).

The procedure is commonly performed in patients who have symptoms of coronary artery disease (termed angina) and those patients who are actively having a heart attack and present to the hospital. 

A long, thin, flexible tube, called a catheter, is typically inserted into the leg or arm through a tiny incision at the skin surface. These catheters travel through the body's blood vessels to the heart. IV contrast dye (usually iodine based) is then injected through the catheters and X-rays (specifically fluoroscopy) are taken of the heart. By visualizing the flow of contrast dye within heart arteries, detailed information about the heart and its blood supply is obtained.

A cardiac catheterization is usually very well-tolerated without significant discomfort to the patient. The patient is required to lay flat on his/her back for the duration of the procedure. The heart cath is generally a sterile procedure, completed in the cath lab of a hospital or vascular center. Routinely, lidocaine is injected at the skin surface to numb the skin and tiny catheters are then inserted. Since there are no nerves inside the blood vessels, the patient does not feel the catheters inside the body once they have been inserted. Sedation medications typically are provided to the patient before and during the procedure. If blockages are found, the cardiologist will typically open the obstruction with a stent. A stent is a small metal pipe which is inserted into the artery to again obtain blood flow. At times, due to the significant amount of blockages, a surgical option will be discussed.