A heart catheterization is a procedure used for both diagnosis and
congenital heart defects.
As a test, this procedure allows doctors to see how blood flows through the heart chambers and arteries.
As a treatment, the doctor can use special tools to fix a heart defect during this procedure.
Before the test, your child receives medicine to make him or her
relax and sleep—sedatives or sometimes
A thin, flexible tube called a
catheter is threaded through a blood vessel in the groin, or sometimes in
another location, and into the heart. Through the catheter, the doctor can
measure pressures, take blood samples, and inject a special dye (contrast material) into the
chambers of the heart or blood vessels. The doctor watches the movement of the dye through the heart's
chambers and blood vessels.
If the doctor is also going to treat a defect, special tools are moved through the catheter into the heart. The doctor uses these tools to correct the defect. Then the tools and the catheter are removed.
A heart catheterization usually takes between 2 and 3 hours to
complete. After the procedure, pressure must be applied over the catheter site for
10 to 20 minutes to stop bleeding and bruising. Then a large bandage might be used to
apply pressure to the catheter site for 4 to 6 hours. Your child will
need to lie as still as possible and keep the leg in which the catheter was
inserted straight to prevent bleeding. You may need to hold your child in your
lap after the test to prevent leg movement, or your child can wear a leg board
with a Velcro strap to hold the leg still.
Your child might be able to go home the same day. If the procedure is more complex, your child might stay in the hospital overnight.
A heart catheterization might also be called angiography (angiogram), cardiac catheterization,
or heart cath.
A heart catheterization can be used to:
A heart catheterization can be used to fix certain types of heart defects. A few different types of procedures can be used during a catheterization. The type of procedure used depends on the type of defect. These procedures include:1
In a child who has a congenital heart defect, a heart
catheterization shows how the blood is flowing through the heart. The exact
heart problem can be seen and sometimes treated during the same procedure or a
If your child has a complex heart defect, he or she might need a combination of surgery and catheterization to treat it.
Your child will continue to see the doctor to be sure that his or her heart is working right. Many children with a heart defect that was treated live healthy and normal lives with few or no restrictions. Your child will need regular checkups throughout life.
Your child might have other tests along with a catheterization so that the doctor can fully understand your child's heart defect. These other tests might be an MRI or a CT scan.
Complications related to the catheter include:
Serious complications are rare, but they can be life-threatening. These complications may include:
Complete the medical test information form (PDF)(What is a PDF document?) to help you prepare for this test.
CitationsFeltes TF, et al. (2011). Indications for cardiac catheterization and intervention in pediatric cardiac disease: A scientific statement from the American Heart Association. Circulation, 123(22): 2607–2652.
October 11, 2011
John Pope, MD - Pediatrics & Larry A. Latson, MD - Pediatric Cardiology
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