A cardiac catheterization is a diagnostic test that enables doctors to see any blockages or defects in the heart, and to evaluate how well the heart is pumping. The procedure is nearly painless and only has a one percent risk. The same procedure may also be referred to as a heart cath, angiography and arteriography.
Patients are given a light sedative, so they feel sleepy, but are not entirely out. The catheterization procedure begins with the doctor making a small incision, usually in the groin, and puncturing the artery with a needle. A guide-wire is threaded into the artery, and a short plastic tube, called a sheath is slipped over the guide-wire and into the artery.
After the catheter is inserted into the blood vessel, it is slowly advanced toward the heart, and the physician follows the catheters progress on a computer monitor. When the catheter reaches its destination, it measures the pressures inside the heart, which enables doctors to assess how well the heart is pumping and the severity of any heart defects. The pressure waves are displayed on a monitor and a permanent record is made.
During the procedure, a special contrast dye is injected through the catheter into each coronary artery, and a fluoroscope takes moving pictures. These pictures detect areas of narrowing or blockage and assess their severity.