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What is cardiac catheterization?

Cardiac catheterization is an interventional diagnostic procedure performed to examine how well your heart is working. The procedure helps your doctor look for blockages, narrowing and plaque buildup. During cardiac catheterization, images are captured of your heart muscle and the surrounding arteries with X-rays. This provides an accurate picture of your heart’s structure and determines the location of any damage. The number of arteries affected, or the size or location of the blockage in an artery, will determine whether surgery or medication will be most beneficial.

Why it's done

Cardiac catheterization is performed if your doctor suspects that you may have one of several conditions, including:

  • Coronary artery disease (blocked or narrowed arteries)
  • Valve or aortic disease
  • Decreased heart muscle activity
  • Decreased cardiac output

Your doctor will determine if a cardiac catheterization is indicated. If so, you will receive instructions that are necessary to follow prior to the procedure, which may include discontinuing certain medications and fasting.

Our approach

During the procedure, a thin tube or catheter is inserted into your artery or vein in the groin, arm or neck. The catheter is advanced through the blood vessels to the heart. Dye is injected while simultaneous filming is done to visualize the coronary vessels. Images of your beating heart are captured and transmitted live to a computer monitor for your physicians to evaluate.


Although major complications, such as a heart attack or stroke, are rare with cardiac catheterization, there are some risks. These include:

  • Bleeding, bruising or pain at the catheter insertion site
  • Post-operative blood clotting
  • Allergy to contrast dye
  • Infection
  • Damage to the artery where catheter was inserted (pseudoaneurysm)
  • Kidney damage
  • Arrhythmia

What to expect

When you arrive at the Heart Institute, you will be greeted by our front office staff. You will then meet our nursing team who will prepare you for the procedure and provide you with a hospital gown. Before you are moved to the cardiac catheterization laboratory, you will be briefed by the interventional cardiologist and the anesthesiologist.

Cardiac catheterization is generally performed under sedation with local anesthetic, without putting you to sleep. The anesthesiologist will be onsite throughout the procedure to ensure you are comfortable. General anesthetic can be used in certain circumstances.


After undergoing a cardiac catheterization, you will be sent to a recovery room where you will be monitored for a few hours. You may need to stay overnight or longer if you have an additional procedure, such as a stent placement or angioplasty. During this time, you may feel tired or dazed as you recover from the sedative. You may have some pressure bandages covering the catheter incision site.

Upon returning home, you can return to light activities. You will be prescribed aspirin to take for two to four weeks after the procedure to reduce the risk of clotting. 


Your doctor will explain the results of your cardiac catheterization. Results may indicate that you need angioplasty, stent or surgery. In some cases, your doctor may perform angioplasty with or without a stent placement at the time of the procedure to prevent you from needing another cardiac catheterization.