When you are back at home, if the puncture site bleeds uncontrollably or swells up very quickly, call triple zero (000) and ask for an ambulance..
- Cardiac catheterisation is a short, usually painless procedure performed under local anaesthetic in adults.
- Your cardiologist threads a thin tube through a blood vessel into your heart in order to diagnose and treat various heart disorders.
- Cardiac catheterisation can help detect and treat blockages in the arteries supplying your heart (coronary arteries).
- Cardiac catheterisation is a common, safe procedure with minimal risks.
What is cardiac catheterisation?
Cardiac catheterisation is a procedure where a cardiologist threads a thin, hollow tube, known as a catheter, through a blood vessel and into your heart. The catheter is usually inserted into a blood vessel in your groin or wrist.
Why do I need cardiac catheterisation?
Cardiac catheterisation lets your cardiologist diagnose and treat various heart disorders. They can use it to investigate whether the blood vessels supplying your heart with blood (coronary arteries) are narrowed or blocked. They can also use it to check how well your heart muscles and valves are working.
Often, your cardiologist may use the catheter to inject a dye into your arteries to prepare for an x-ray known as an angiogram. The x-ray can show where your arteries are narrowed. Your cardiologist may open up a narrowed artery by inflating a small balloon on the catheter to stretch the artery wall (coronary angioplasty). Sometimes your cardiologist will insert a small metal coil (stent) into your artery to keep it open.
Cardiac catheterisation is usually done to help get a diagnosis when other tests, such as an electrocardiogram (ECG) or chest x-ray, can't provide enough information. It can also help determine the best treatment for a heart condition.
How should I prepare for cardiac catheterisation?
You should follow the guidelines your hospital clinic gives you on how to prepare for cardiac catheterisation.
They will ask you not to eat or drink for several hours before the procedure. If you usually take blood-thinning medication, your doctor might ask you to stop taking it a few days before the procedure.
Learn more about how to prepare for surgery here.
What happens during cardiac catheterisation?
Cardiac catheterisation is a short procedure, usually taking between 30 and 60 minutes. It is generally done in a special catheterisation laboratory in the hospital, also known as a ‘cath lab’.
Children are often given a general anaesthetic, but adults commonly have a local anaesthetic plus a sedative to help them relax.
The cardiologist will make a small cut in a large blood vessel, usually in your groin or wrist.
They will then insert a narrow tube, known as a sheath. They thread the catheter through the sheath and guide it to your heart, while following its progress on a screen.
They might inject some dye containing a tiny amount of radioactive material and monitor where it goes.
You could be asked to hold your breath at certain times during the procedure. You might feel some pressure or heat, but you should not feel any pain.
What should I expect after cardiac catheterisation?
The site where you had the catheter inserted doesn't usually need stitches, but you might be bruised and sore for a few days.
If you've had a local anaesthetic and sedation, you'll need a few hours to recover. Children who have had a general anaesthetic might need a little longer. If the catheter was inserted through the groin, you will need to lie down for the first few hours to prevent bleeding.
Make sure someone collects you and can drive you home.
Follow the guidelines provided by your clinic on how long you need to rest and when you can resume driving and physical activities. Your clinic will also advise you on symptoms you should look out for and when to call your doctor.
What are the risks?
Cardiac catheterisation is a common and usually very safe procedure. Rare complications include bleeding and bruising at the puncture site, heart attack, stroke or an abnormal heart rhythm.
When you are back at home, if the puncture site bleeds uncontrollably or swells up very quickly, call triple zero (000) and ask for an ambulance.
Resources and support
Visit the Heart Foundation website to learn about other heart procedures.
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Last reviewed: July 2022