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Cardiac Catheterization
What is it? Overview Usage Side Effects and Warnings

Cardiac Catheterization Overview

Written by FoundHealth.

Click here to view an animated version of this procedure.


Cardiac catheterization is a test that uses a catheter (tube) and x-ray machine to assess the heart and its blood supply.

What to Expect

Prior to Procedure

Your doctor may order:

Talk to your doctor about your medicines. You may be asked to stop taking some medicines before the procedure, like:

Leading up to your procedure:

  • Arrange for a ride to and from the procedure.
  • The night before, do not eat or drink anything after midnight.


Local anesthesia will be used at the insertion site. A mild sedative may be given one hour before or through IV during the procedure. This will help you relax.

Description of the Procedure

During the procedure, you will receive IV fluids and medicines. An EKG will be monitoring your heart's activity.

You will be awake but sedated so that you will be more relaxed. Your doctor will ask you to do basic functions such as coughing, breathing out, and holding your breath. If you feel any chest pain, dizziness, nausea, tingling, or other discomfort, tell your doctor.

The area of the groin or arm where the catheter will be inserted is shaved, cleaned, and numbed. A needle will be inserted into a blood vessel. A wire will be passed through the needle and into the blood vessel. The wire will then be guided through until it reaches your heart. A soft, flexible catheter tube will then be slipped over the wire and threaded up to your heart.

The doctor will be taking x-ray pictures during the procedure to know where the wire and catheter are. Dye will be injected into the arteries of the heart. This will make the arteries and heart show up on the x-ray images. You may feel warm during the dye injection.

Insertion of Catheter with Guide Wire
Insertion of Catheter with Guide Wire
© 2009 Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.

Once in place, the catheter can be used to take measurements. Blood pressure can be taken within the heart's different chambers. Blood samples may also be taken. Multiple x-ray images will be taken to look for any disease in the arteries. An aortogram may also be done at this time. This step will give a clear image of the aorta (large artery leaving the heart). Once all the tests and images are complete, the catheter will be removed.

Sometimes, the doctor will perform balloon angioplasty and stenting if he finds an area in your arteries that is narrow or clogged. These are procedures that help to open narrowed arteries.

Finally, a bandage will be placed over the groin or arm area.

How Long Will It Take?

The procedure takes about 1-2 hours. Preparation before the test will take another 1-2 hours.

How Much Will It Hurt?

Although the procedure is generally not painful, it can cause some discomfort, including:

  • Burning sensation (when skin at catheter insertion site is anesthetized)
  • Pressure when catheter is inserted or replaced with other catheters
  • A flushing feeling or nausea when the dye is injected
  • Headache
  • Heart palpitations

Pain medicine will be given when needed.

Average Hospital Stay

0-1 days

Postoperative Care

At the Care Center

  • EKG and blood studies may be done.
  • You will likely need to lie still and flat on your back for a period of time. A pressure dressing may be placed over the area where the catheter was inserted to help prevent bleeding. It is important to follow the nurse's directions.

At Home

When you return home, do the following to help ensure a smooth recovery:

  • Do not drive for 72 hours.
  • Do not lift heavy objects or engage in strenuous exercise or sexual activity for at least 5-7 days.
  • Change the dressing around the incision area as instructed.
  • Your doctor will explain to you which medicines you can take and which ones to avoid. Take medicines as instructed.
  • Ice may help decrease discomfort at the insertion site. You may apply the ice for 15-20 minutes each hour, for the first few days.
  • To lower your risk for further complications of heart disease, you can make lifestyle changes. These include eating a healthier diet, exercising regularly, and managing stress.
  • Be sure to follow your doctor’s instructions .



American Heart Association


About Kids Health

Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada


Cardiac Catheterization: A Patient Guide. Center for Cardiovascular Education website. Available at: . Accessed June 10, 2008.

Cardiac catheterization. Mayo website. Available at: . Updated May 2010. Accessed November 9, 2010.



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