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Cardiac catheterization (also called cardiac cath or coronary angiogram) is an invasive imaging procedure that tests for heart disease by allowing your doctor to see how well your heart is functioning. During the test, a long, narrow tube, called a catheter, is inserted into a blood vessel in your arm or leg and guided to your heart with the aid of a special X-ray machine. Contrast dye is injected through the catheter so that X-ray movies of your valves, coronary arteries, and heart chambers can be created.
Why Do I Need a Cardiac Catheterization?
Your doctor uses cardiac cath to:
- Evaluate or confirm the presence of heart disease (such as coronary artery disease, heart valve disease, or disease of the aorta).
- Evaluate heart muscle function.
- Determine the need for further treatment (such as an interventional procedure or bypass surgery).
- At many hospitals, several interventional, or therapeutic, procedures to open blocked arteries are performed after the diagnostic part of the cardiac catheterization is complete. Interventional procedures include balloon angioplasty and stent placements.
What Are the Risks Associated With Cardiac Catheterization?
Cardiac catheterization is generally safe. However, as with any invasive procedure, there are risks. Special precautions are taken to decrease these risks. Your doctor will discuss the risks of the procedure with you.
Risks are rare but can include:
- Bleeding around the point of puncture
- Abnormal heart rhythms
- Blood clots
- Allergic reaction to the dye
- Heart attack
- Perforation of a blood vessel
- Air embolism (introduction of air into a blood vessel, which can be life-threatening)
Be sure to ask your doctor any questions you may have before undergoing cardiac catheterization or other tests for heart disease.