• Cardiac Catheterization

    (Coronary Angiography; Coronary Arteriography; Coronary Angiogram)

    Click here to view an animated version of this procedure.


    Cardiac catheterization is a test that uses a catheter (tube) and x-ray machine to check the heart and its blood supply.

    Reasons for Procedure

    Cardiac catheterization is used 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

    Possible Complications

    If you are planning to have cardiac catheterization, your doctor will review a list of possible complications. Complications may include:
    • Bleeding at the point of the catheter insertion
    • Damage to arteries
    • Heart attack or arrhythmia (abnormal heart beats)
    • Allergic reaction to x-ray dye
    • Blood clot formation
    • Infection
    Some factors that may increase the risk of complications include:

    What to Expect

    Prior to Procedure

    Your doctor may order:
    Talk to your doctor about your medicines. You may be asked to stop taking some medicines before the procedure, like:
    • Anti-inflammatory drugs
    • Blood thinners
    • Diabetes medication
    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.


    Local anesthesia will be used at the insertion site. A mild sedative may be given one hour before the procedure or through an IV during the procedure. This will help you relax.

    Description of the Procedure

    During the procedure, you will receive IV fluids and medicines. An EKG will be monitoring your heart's activity.
    You will be awake but sedated so that you will 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, dizziness, nausea, tingling, or other discomfort.
    The catheter will be inserted into an artery in either the groin or arm. It is usually inserted at the crease opposite the elbow or at the wrist. The insertion area will be shaved, cleaned, and numbed. A needle will be inserted into a blood vessel. A wire will be passed through the needle and into the blood vessel. The wire will then be guided through until it reaches your heart. A soft, flexible catheter tube will then be slipped over the wire and threaded up to your heart.
    The doctor will be taking x-ray pictures during the procedure to know where the wire and catheter are. Dye will be injected into the arteries of the heart. This will make the arteries and heart show up on the x-ray images. You may feel warm during the dye injection.
    Insertion of Catheter with Guide Wire through the Groin
    Nucleus factsheet image
    Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.
    Once in place, the catheter can be used to take measurements. Blood pressure can be taken within the heart's different chambers. Blood samples may also be taken. Multiple x-ray images will be taken to look for any disease in the arteries. An aortogram may also be done at this time. This step will give a clear image of the aorta. After all the tests and images are complete, the catheter will be removed.
    Sometimes, the doctor will do a balloon angioplasty and stenting if he finds an area in your arteries that is narrow or clogged. These procedures help to open narrowed arteries.
    Finally, a bandage will be placed over the groin or arm area.

    How Long Will It Take?

    The procedure takes about 1-2 hours. Preparation before the test will take another 1-2 hours.

    How Much Will It 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 medicine will be given when needed.

    Average Hospital Stay

    0-1 days

    Postoperative Care

    At the Care Center
    • EKG and blood studies may be done.
    • If the catheter was inserted in the groin area, you will likely need to lie still in bed and flat on your back for a period of time. If the catheter was in your arm, you will likely be out of bed sooner.
    • A pressure dressing may be placed over the area where the catheter was inserted to help prevent bleeding. It is important to follow the nurse's instructions.
    At Home
    When you return home, do the following to help ensure a smooth recovery:
    • Do not drive until your doctor says it is okay.
    • Do not lift heavy objects or engage in strenuous exercise or sexual activity for at least 5-7 days.
    • Change the dressing around the incision area as instructed.
    • Your doctor will explain which medicines you can take and which ones to avoid. Take medicines as instructed.
    • You can make lifestyle changes to lower your risk for further complications of heart disease. These include eating a healthier diet, exercising regularly, and managing stress.
    • Ask your doctor about when it is safe to shower, bathe, or soak in water.
    • Be sure to follow your doctor’s instructions.

    Call Your Doctor

    After arriving home, contact your doctor if any of the following occurs:
    • Signs of infection, including fever and chills
    • Extreme sweating, nausea, or vomiting
    • Change in sensation to the affected leg or arm, including numbness, feeling cold, or change in color
    • Redness, swelling, increasing pain, excess bleeding, or discharge where catheter was inserted
    • Cough, shortness of breath, or difficulty breathing
    • Extreme pain
    • Chest pain
    • Drooping facial muscles
    • Changes in vision or speech
    • Difficulty walking or using your limbs
    In case of an emergency, call for medical help right away.


    American Heart Association http://www.heart.org

    National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov


    Canadian Cardiovascular Society http://www.ccs.ca

    Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada http://www.heartandstroke.com


    Cardiac catheterization. CardioSmart website. Available at: http://cardiosmart.org/HeartDisease/CTT.aspx?id=318. Accessed January 23, 2013.

    Cardiac catheterization. Cleveland Clinic website. Available at: http://my.clevelandclinic.org/heart/services/tests/invasive/ccath.aspx. Accessed January 23, 2013.

    Preparing for cardiac catheterization, angiography, and electrophysiology studies. Cedars Sinai Hospital website. Available at: http://cedars-sinai.edu/Patients/Programs-and-Services/Heart-Institute/Patient-Resources/Preparing-for-Cardiac-Procedures-and-Studies/Preparing-for-Cardiac-Catheterization.aspx. Accessed January 23, 2013.

    What is cardiac catheterization? National Heart Lung and Blood Institute website. Available at: http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/cath/. Updated January 30, 2012. Accessed January 23, 2013.

    Revision Information

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