Cardiac catheterization is done to see if you have a heart problem, or as a part of a procedure to correct a heart problem your doctor already knows about.
If you're having cardiac catheterization as a test for heart disease, your doctor can:
- Locate narrowing or blockages in your blood vessels that could cause chest pain (angiogram)
- Measure pressure and oxygen levels in different parts of your heart (hemodynamic assessment)
- Check the pumping function of your heart (right or left ventriculogram)
- Take a sample of tissue from your heart (biopsy)
- Diagnose heart defects present from birth (congenital heart defects)
- Look for problems with your heart valves
Cardiac catheterization is also used as part of some procedures to treat heart disease. These procedures include:
- Angioplasty with or without stent placement. Angioplasty involves temporarily inserting and expanding a tiny balloon at the site of your blockage to help widen a narrowed artery. Angioplasty is usually combined with implantation of a small metal coil called a stent in the clogged artery to help prop it open and decrease the chance of it narrowing again (restenosis).
- Closure of holes in the heart and fixing other congenital defects. Some congenital heart defects involving holes in the heart can be treated by threading a catheter to the hole to close it, almost like a plug, instead of having open-heart surgery. Narrow areas of blood vessels, such as coarctation of the aorta, can be opened up by a balloon. After that, a stent is usually placed to keep the blood vessel open.
- Repair or replace heart valves. Using cardiac catheterization, doctors can sometimes repair or replace a leaking or narrowed heart valve. Sometimes, doctors will use catheterization to fix a leaking replacement valve.
- Balloon valvuloplasty. This procedure can open narrowed heart valves by threading a balloon-tipped catheter to the part of your heart valve that's narrowed and inflating it.
- Heart arrhythmia treatment (ablation). Ablation is a procedure used to treat heart rhythm problems. Radiofrequency energy (heat), a laser or nitrous oxide (extreme cold) can be applied to abnormal heart tissue through the tip of a catheter. This is done to reroute electrical signals or destroy (ablate) areas that are causing the heart rhythm disorder.
- Closing off part of your heart to prevent blood clots. In addition to closing holes in the heart, cardiac catheterization can also be used to close off the part of the upper chamber of the heart called the left atrial appendage. This area of the heart is prone to developing blood clots during irregular heart rhythms, such as atrial fibrillation. Closing it off is an alternative to taking blood thinners.