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Cardiac Catheterization

Heart Institute at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC

A cardiac or heart catheterization or “heart cath” is a minimally invasive procedure which uses thin, flexible tubes called “catheters” to look at and get information about the heart from the inside. To get inside the heart, the catheters are inserted into the big blood vessels in the groin, called the femoral (FEM-or-ul) artery and vein, in the same way an intravenous (IV) line is placed. Sometimes other blood vessels in the neck or arm also are used. The catheters are gently pushed through the blood vessels and into the heart using a type of x-ray called fluoroscopy (floor-OS-co-pee) to guide the placement of the catheters. Once the catheters are in position inside the heart, they can be used to gather different types of information depending on what the doctor needs to know.

There are many different types of catheters that can be used during a heart cath, and each catheter serves a different purpose. Some catheters allow the medical team to take blood samples from different parts of the heart and from the lungs to look at oxygen saturation (how much oxygen is in the blood), or they can help measure the blood pressure in the heart and lungs. Others allow the doctor to look at the electrical system of the heart. By inserting a special dye called “contrast” through the catheters and looking at it under fluoroscopy, the doctor can see the heart, and the arteries and veins in the heart and lungs. The doctor can see how well the heart is pumping and take pictures of it so that they can be looked at later.

To complete the evaluation of your child’s heart problem, the cardiologist may need to perform a heart catheterization. Your child will be admitted to the hospital for this procedure.

Who does it?
The heart catheterization is done by a pediatric cardiologist and a team of trained professionals who specialize in the catheterization procedure. Approximately 30 to 40 catheterizations are done in the Heart Institute each month.

Why is it done?
A heart catheterization is the most accurate way to evaluate how the heart is functioning. With the information from the catheterization, physical examination, EKG, ECHO and other diagnostic tests, the cardiologist can plan the best care for your child. A catheterization must be done before some types of operations to provide the information the surgeon needs. For some children, the catheterization may be repeated after surgery to evaluate results of the operation. A catheterization is done only if the cardiologist cannot obtain the information he needs from other diagnostic tests. It is never done unless necessary.

Some children need an additional study of the heart’s electrical conduction system during the catheterization. This electrophysiology study (EP) is performed with an electrode catheter. The catheter senses electrical activity in various areas of the heart and can deliver electrical impulses to pace the heart during the procedure. Information obtained from the EP study can help diagnose arrhythmias and plan a method of treatment.

Increasingly heart catheterization is used as both a diagnostic procedure and a method of treatment. Some treatments are:

  • Balloon Atrial Septostomy
  • Raskind Procedure
  • Balloon Angioplasty
  • Balloon Valvuloplasty
  • Ablation
  • Occluding Devices
  • Stenting Procedures

How is it scheduled?
After the cardiologist decides your child needs a heart catheterization, you will be contacted by a scheduling secretary to arrange an admission date. Catheterization dates may be changed for two reasons:

  1. An emergency catheterization needs to be scheduled for another child
  2. Your child develops fever, severe cold symptoms or other major health problems affecting the catheterization; please notify the cardiologist if your child becomes ill before the day of admission

Canceled catheterizations are rescheduled as soon as possible.

What are the risks?
For most children, catheterization is a safe procedure. It carries additional risks for very sick newborns and children. The cardiologist will explain any special risks for your child. Parents are asked to sign a consent form before the catheterization.

View the patient procedure sheet about Cardiac Catheterization at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC.

Last Update
July 14, 2015
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Last Update
July 14, 2015