How is a heart catheterization performed?

Cath lab

Parents will receive a call from one of the nurses in the pre/post cath area the day before the procedure. The nurse will give instructions as to when the child should stop eating and drinking, and what time to arrive at the hospital in the morning, as well as answer any questions the parents might have about the procedure.

The procedure is performed in the hospital by a specially trained cardiologist. The doctor will discuss the risks and benefits of the procedure with the parents and will then obtain written permission (informed consent) before the procedure.

The child is given some medicine to help him relax and possibly even sleep during the procedure. Also, a white numbing cream is put on his leg where the catheter will be placed. Once in the cath lab, he will lie on an X-ray table with cameras around it. Heart monitors, TV screens and other equipment are nearby. A specially trained staff of nurses, technicians and doctors will monitor your child and make sure he is comfortable during the procedure.

An injection of local anesthetic (white numbing cream) will be given under the skin where the catheter is going to be inserted. Next, a thin, flexible tube (catheter) is inserted into a blood vessel, most often in the groin area (the crease of the leg where it bends when sitting). The catheter is guided up the vein toward the heart. The cardiologist uses X-rays, called fluoroscopy, to help visualize and guide the movement of the catheter to the desired locations within the blood vessels and chambers of the heart. While inside the heart, several things may be done to help evaluate the heart structures, as well as the pattern of blood flow inside the heart and nearby blood vessels, including the following:

  • Blood samples are drawn from each chamber and each blood vessel, and the oxygen content is measured.
  • Blood pressure measurements are made inside each chamber and each blood vessel.
  • Contrast (dye) is injected into the catheter and, is recorded on moving pictures as it flows through the heart

The moving pictures are saved, enabling the cardiologist to review the data after the procedure. If surgery is planned, the heart surgeon may also review the data.