What to expect in a heart catheterization procedure

August 25, 2020 | by MaryLou Habryl, RN, BSN, RCIS
Categories: Healthy Driven Hearts

The coronary arteries, which supply your heart muscle with blood, can become clogged. This can reduce the flow of blood to your heart and lead to chest pain, shortness of breath and other symptoms. A complete blockage can cause a heart attack.

A cardiac catherization, or heart angiogram, allows to doctors to assess the pumping function of the heart and determine if there is any significant blockage in the arteries.

The procedure involves threading a tiny tube through an artery to the heart and injecting dye into the arteries that transport blood through the heart using X-ray imaging.

What can you expect in a heart catherization procedure? Here is a step-by-step guide:

Before you go

Talk with your doctor about which method of access — the femoral artery in the groin or radial artery in the wrist — is best for you. It’s also important to discuss any possible need for intervention during the procedure, such as angioplasty, where a stent is placed to open a blocked artery.

Let your doctor know if you have any upcoming surgeries, such as a colonoscopy, knee, hip or eye surgery. When reviewing your medical history, be sure to share a known contrast/shellfish allergy and information about any previous heart-related intervention or surgery.

A nurse from the hospital Pre-Admission Testing department will call you with a date for your procedure, review your medical history and current medications, and discuss what to expect during the procedure.

The afternoon prior to your procedure, you’ll receive a phone call with details about when to arrive at the hospital and an approximate procedure time. At this time, you’ll find out when you need to stop eating and drinking prior to your procedure and you’ll be able to ask any questions. You will need to arrange for a friend or family member to provide transportation home after your procedure.

During the procedure

It’s common for patients to wonder if they will be asleep or feel any discomfort during a heart catherization. In most cases, patients receive a low dose of sedation and pain management through an IV that allows them to be comfortable and drift off during the procedure. Most patients don’t remember much of the procedure once the sedation wears off.

While sedated, a local anesthetic (numbing agent) is given prior to the use of a small needle to access the artery in the groin or wrist. A small plastic tube is placed into the vessel that allows the physician to place a catheter into the heart chamber and arteries.

Once the catheter is in place, the doctor performs specific tests to assess the condition of your heart. If blocked arteries are identified, angioplasty/stenting may or may not be performed.

When the procedure is completed, the tube is removed, and pressure is applied to the access site to prevent bleeding. If the procedure is performed via the groin, a closure device or manual pressure may be used. If the radial artery in the wrist is used, a compression band is applied to maintain pressure. Typically, the procedure takes about one hour.

After the procedure

After the cardiac catherization is complete, you’ll be moved to the outpatient holding department and monitored closely during recovery. When groin access has been used, you lie flat for 1-3 hours and then move to a sitting position to ensure bleeding is controlled. If a vessel in the wrist has been accessed, the compression band will be removed after sitting for one hour.

If you receive a stent, you may stay overnight, but many patients are discharged home six hours after the procedure. Throughout your time in recovery, your access site and vital signs are monitored for any changes. You may be able to drink after the procedure.

Prior to discharge, you will take a walk and use the restroom. From beginning to end, your time at the hospital ranges from 4-6 hours. Before you leave, you’ll speak with your physician and nurse about test results, discharge instructions and future care needs.

Once you’ve returned home

Patients typically feel well after the procedure but may have some soreness or bruising around the access site. Physical restrictions are limited but include not driving for 24 hours or submerging the access site under water for 72 hours. You may have other limitations based on the location of the site, such as decreased stair climbing or weightbearing activities.

You’ll be sent home with specific written instructions related to your post-catherization care. Should you notice abnormal bleeding at the site, have a care partner apply pressure for 20 minutes and call your physician. Symptoms such as fever, chills, signs of infection or numbness, and tingling or loss of feeling in the limb where the incision site was located, also warrant a call to the doctor. In very rare situations, continued bleeding may occur and patients may need to go to the emergency room.

Cardiac catherization is usually a very safe procedure that allows physicians to evaluate and often treat the heart for a variety of conditions.

You can depend on the Cardiac Innovations & Structural Heart Center® team at the Heart Hospital of Edward-Elmhurst Health to effectively treat your heart condition with a number of minimally invasive options.

Know your risk for heart disease. Take a free, 5-minute test that could save your life.

Your heart is in expert hands when you choose Edward-Elmhurst Heart Hospital for your cardiovascular care. Learn why for us, this is personal.

Learn more from Healthy Driven Chicago:

New Technology Improves Heart Disease Screenings & Treatment

Your Heart’s Rhythm: Treatments to Stay on Beat

Five Cardiac Risk Factors You Need to Know

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