So you need a heart cath? Now what?
Heart catheterization is a diagnostic tool used to look for coronary artery disease. Traditionally this procedure is performed through the groin or femoral artery, but now there are less invasive, safer, and more comfortable techniques for doing these procedures: using the wrist or radial artery.
If a severe heart blockage is found once a heart catheterization is performed, the cardiologist can immediately proceed to a coronary angioplasty and stenting. Coronary angioplasty is a technique where a small balloon is used to treat and open a blockage in the artery of the heart. In most patients, after a balloon angioplasty a metal scaffold called a stent is deployed in the artery to keep the artery open. These stents are permanent and become part of the patient’s body after about 1 year.
After the patient arrives at a hospital’s Cardiac Catheterization Laboratory they are changed into a hospital gown and then placed on the procedure table. They are given light or moderate sedation for the procedure. From that wrist or groin access site the cardiologist is able to view all the arteries of the heart and perform balloon angioplasty and stents. A video screen allows the doctor to see where the catheter is going as it travels through the blood vessel to the heart. The procedure usually takes about 30 minutes to determine if there is a blockage and if a stent is necessary, another approximately 30 minutes.
The majority of patients who undergo a diagnostic cardiac cath can return home the same day. However, if an angioplasty or stent was done then most patients stay in the hospital overnight.
The most common risk is bleeding that can also occur at the entry point. The risk for bleeding is greatly reduced when the procedure is done from the wrist rather than the groin. More serious side effects include a heart attack or stroke.