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Heart Catheterization

Heart Catheterization in Anderson, SC

Heart catheterization helps diagnose and treat heart disease. AnMed Health Heart and Vascular Center has four state-of-the art heart catheterization labs and treats more than 3,000 patients each year.

What Is a Heart Catheterization?

Every year, more than 1,000,000 heart catheterizations are performed in the United States.

A heart catheterization (also called a cardiac catheterization, heart cath, or cath) is a fairly common medical procedure used to examine the heart and to determine how well the heart is functioning. The heart cath is used to diagnose and sometimes even to treat certain heart conditions. A heart catheterization allows a medical provider to look closely at the heart in order to identify problems or perform necessary tests or procedures. Unlike many other medical tests performed in the hospital, a heart catheterization yields helpful information right away, which means the doctor may get answers during the catheterization that he or she can share with the patient when the procedure is over.

There are many good reasons a doctor may order a heart catheterization. A heart catheterization is typically ordered after a patient has shared symptoms of heart disease with the doctor during a physical exam. A heart catheterization may be recommended in the event of irregular heartbeat or chest pain, for example, and it may also be used to better understand whether a patient has ischemic heart disease as a result of blockages in the arteries.

A heart cath generally takes around 15 minutes. During the procedure, a contrast dye is injected into the body to better see the arteries in the x-rays, presenting a clear picture of what's happening in and around the heart. The procedure is a good way to find or rule out blockages or to determine any additional areas of concern. During a heart catheterization, blood flow and pressure in the heart are measured to assess the heart's health and to determine if any course of action is necessary. Heart catheterizations are generally safe and effective.

If you think you may need a heart catheterization in Anderson, here's what you need to know.

Types of Cardiac Catheterizations 

Cardiac catheterization involves passing a catheter (or thin tube) into the right or left side of the heart. The catheter is most often inserted from the groin or the arm.

Transradial cardiac catheterization (radial cath) occurs when a catheter is inserted through your radial artery, which is a blood vessel in your arm. During femoral catheterization, a catheter is inserted into your femoral artery near your groin. Whichever the insertion location, a tube is then threaded through your blood vessels until it reaches your heart. The catheter may have various tools attached to it such as a tool to insert a special dye into your cardiovascular systems so that an X-ray can be taken of your arteries and heart. Another type of catheter tool is a balloon that can help open blockages in your arteries.

When Is a Heart Catheterization Needed?

A heart catheterization is typically the best way for a doctor to know what's happening in the heart. The two main reasons a heart cath is typically performed are as follows:

  • to determine if any arteries to the heart are blocked

  • to treat blocked arteries that may be discovered during the cath

If you've recently suffered from angina (chest pain), dizziness, fatigue, or shortness of breath, your doctor may want you to have a heart catheterization. This doesn't necessarily mean that a serious heart issue will be discovered or that any future procedures will need to be done, but a heart catheterization is a good place to start when a doctor wants to better assess what's happening in the heart. At the very least, it will provide peace of mind if the procedure is performed and no critical issues are discovered.

If you receive a heart catheterization, your doctor will likely check for one or more of the following:

  • Heart disease, including disease of the aorta, heart valve disease, or coronary artery disease

  • Heart function, including how well (or not) the heart muscle is functioning

  • Further treatment, including whether bypass surgery or an interventional procedure is necessary

Heart catheterizations have benefitted from many advancements in recent years. Today, a heart catheterization can be used in place of some heart surgeries in order to repair defects or replace valves. This has been good news for many patients, as it's safer for most people to undergo a heart cath than it is for people to have open heart surgery.

Here are some examples of procedures that may be done during a heart catheterization:

  • Close a hole in the heart

  • Close off part of the heart in order to prevent a blood clot

  • Fix congenital defects

  • Open a narrow heart valve (also known as valvuloplasty)

  • Repair or replace a heart valve

  • Treat irregular heart rhythms (using ablation)

  • Widen a narrowed artery (also known as angioplasty)

Cardiac Catheterization Risks 

Heart catheterizations are typically considered safe and effective, but it's important to understand that any medical procedure comes with certain risks. These risks are largely determined by a patient's preexisting health. The main risks a heart catheterization patient should be aware of include the following:

  • Air embolism (air getting into the blood vessel)

  • Allergic reaction to the dye used for the heart catheterization

  • Arrhythmia (irregular or uneven heart rhythm; usually these arrhythmias are temporary)

  • Blood clots

  • Bruising

  • Excessive bleeding

  • Heart attack

  • Infection

  • Kidney damage that results from the dye used for the heart catheterization

  • Perforation (a puncture of the blood vessel)

  • Stroke

It's important to remember that your doctor has ordered the heart catheterization because he or she believes the risk of not performing the procedure outweighs the risks of performing the procedure. If a problem exists within the heart, it is critical that the problem be identified and taken care of as soon as possible.

If a patient has any concerns or knows of any reason why the test may not be safe for them, it is important to express those concerns to the doctor directly.

If you are pregnant or if you believe that you could be pregnant, you should tell your doctor. There is an increased risk of injury to the fetus if a cardiac catheterization is performed on the mother. Also, exposure to radiation during a pregnancy can lead to birth defects.

How to Prepare for a Cardiac Catheterization

Preparing for a cardiac catheterization involves three basic steps: 

  1. Preparing with your doctor

  2. Preparing for yourself

  3. Preparing with a caregiver

First, you'll want to prepare with your doctor. Your doctor will likely explain the cardiac catheterization procedure with you and give you the opportunity to ask any questions you may have. Take advantage of this time. This is your opportunity to share any concerns or ask any questions you have. If you have any underlying health conditions, or if you are taking any medications—even ones you may not think have any connection to your heart—this is the time to tell your doctor. If you've ever had negative reactions to contrast dyes or sedation, let your doctor know. Your doctor will give you detailed instructions and ask you to sign necessary consent forms.

Second, you'll want to prepare for yourself. You will likely be told not to eat or drink for a certain amount of time before the procedure (usually overnight). You may be asked not to take certain medications before the procedure. Be sure you understand these expectations clearly and follow them exactly so that your heart catheterization isn't delayed or postponed. Also, it's important to be as calm as possible before the procedure. High anxiety can be detrimental to the heart's health, so the patient should do everything possible to be rested and ready for the cath.

Third, you'll want to prepare with a partner or caregiver. You may want to let your partner or friend know a few important pieces of information prior to your procedure. For instance, you'll want to take it easy on the day after your heart catheterization. Additionally, in the week following your procedure, you'll want to gradually return to your normal activities. You may need help during the first few days at home after the cath. Your doctor will give you specific instructions in this regard. It's always a good idea to communicate these expectations and needs to anyone you live with or receive care from.

What to Expect During a Heart Catheterization

Today, heart catheterizations are safer, faster, and more comfortable than ever before.

Prior to having a cardiac catheterization, the doctor may need to run diagnostic tests—including blood tests, a stress test, or heart imaging tests—to be sure a patient's heart is working well enough to perform the procedure and to create a good working plan for the procedure itself. The heart catheterization is typically performed in a unit within the hospital as opposed to the doctor's office. The procedure, however, does not typically require a hospital stay unless a problem is discovered that requires further or immediate attention.

Most often, the patient is awake for the heart catheterization, but a small amount of sedation is given to provide maximum comfort for the procedure. The doctor will not begin the procedure until the numbing agent has taken effect and the patient is ready to begin.

During a heart catheterization, the doctor places a very small, hollow tube into the patient's blood vessel, usually by way of the arm or groin. Because a tube cannot be inserted directly into the heart, a doctor will access the heart through an artery. When the artery in the groin is used, it accesses the femoral artery, and when the artery in the arm is used, it accesses the radial artery. The doctor will then thread the tube through the blood vessel into the aorta and into the heart. Once the tube is in place within the heart, the doctor will inject some liquid—called a contrast agent—that will show up clearly and brightly on X-rays so the doctor can see exactly what's happening in the heart. During the procedure, the doctor is able to run many different tests by measuring pressures within the heart's chambers, by taking various blood samples, and by measuring oxygen levels. Contrast dye will be injected into the catheter that travels through the tube and inside the wall of the artery. It then outlines the inside walls, enabling a doctor to see any existing blockages or obstructions. If there is an obstruction, for example, the dye won't flow normally.

During the procedure, you may be asked to do different things, including holding your breath, taking a deep breath, coughing, or placing your arms in various positions. Each of these instructions will enable your doctor to better see what's happening with your heart during your normal, daily living experiences.

Recovering from Heart Catheterization

Recovering from a heart catheterization is usually quick. Immediately following the procedure, you will likely spend up to a few hours in a recovery room. This will allow time for the anesthesia to wear off. During this time, the plastic sheath that held the thin tube will be removed.

After receiving a heart catheterization, you may experience some pain in your groin or arm from the catheter. You may also notice some bruising around and/or below the incision that was made to insert the catheter for the procedure.

Typically speaking, patients are able to stand up and walk around within six hours of receiving a heart catheterization. Full recovery can take up to a week, however. For the first 24 to 48 hours, it's important to keep the area dry where the catheter was inserted.

Call your doctor with any unusual symptoms including (but not limited to) the following:

  • You experience any unusual chest pain or shortness of breath.

  • You suddenly have an irregular, slow, or fast pulse.

  • Your incision becomes red, painful, or discharge drains from it.

  • Your arm or leg changes color, becomes numb, or is cool to the touch.

  • You experience dizziness, fatigue, or fainting.

  • You experience any unusual bleeding at the catheter insertion site or any bleeding that doesn't stop when you apply pressure.

  • You have a fever over 101°F or chills.

Life After a Heart Catheterization

Depending on what your doctor discovers and what you are able to learn from your heart catheterization, you'll want to commit to making any changes requested by your doctor in order to lead a heart-healthy lifestyle. This may include changing your diet, increasing your exercise, taking various medications, stopping smoking, or maintaining follow-up appointments. Your doctor will work with you to form a plan moving forward, but it will ultimately be up to you to follow the plan and advocate for your best heart health.

It's common for a doctor to request a follow-up visit in the office two to four weeks after the procedure, especially following an angioplasty or stent procedure. It's also common for a yearly visit to be scheduled, just to be sure the heart is still working well. It's important to note, though, if you experience any discomfort or alarming symptoms, you should call your doctor right away. Don't wait for your appointment to communicate with your physician.

Why AnMed Health?

AnMed Health’s Heart and Vascular Center has four state-of-the-art heart catheterization labs and treats more than 3,000 patients each year. This extensive experience means that our highly-trained surgeons and supports staff will be able to provide you or your loved one with the highest quality of care.