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Heart & Vascular Institute

Cardiac Catheterization

Cardiac Catheterization is a non-surgical diagnostic test which allows your doctor to see inside your coronary (heart) arteries.  The test determines if there is blockage (plaque build up or Atherosclerosis) within the coronary arteries which reduces the flow of oxygenated blood to the heart. It is also used to detect a variety of heart conditions, including valve disorders and congenital heart defects. Geisinger performs about 4,600 cardiac catheterizations each year.

While taking X-ray pictures, your doctor will guide a small tube called a catheter inside an artery to the opening of the coronary arteries and inject an X-ray dye, allowing him or her to visualize areas of narrowing in these arteries. If this plaque buildup (also called Atherosclerosis) is left untreated, the heart artery can become more narrowed or crack, which can result in a heart attack.

During the study, the doctor threads a long, thin tube (a catheter) through an artery or vein in your leg or arm into the heart. When this is done, different procedures may be done to diagnose or treat coronary artery disease, including:

  • Injecting dye through the catheter to see the heart and its arteries (angiography and angioplasty)
  • Sending electrical impulses through the catheter to study irregular heartbeats (electrophysiology studies)
  • Pacemaker and implantable defibrillator insertion
  • Percutaneous closure of defects in the septal wall of the heart.
  • Balloon valvuloplasty of valves that have become tight

During the study, a catheter, or small tube, will be inserted into a vein in your arm or groin and and advanced to your heart with the help of X-rays. Once the catheter is in place, a special dye will be injected into the arteries of your heart, which will allow your physician to check blood flow through these vital arteries. 

Dye may also be injected directly into your heart's pumping chambers to check their strength. If your physician needs to check the pressures in your heart, he or she may insert a tiny catheter into the right side of your heart. Finally, if your physician needs to determine how severe a blockage is, they may use an ultrasound or pressure wave catheter.

cardiac catheterization labGenerally, the test takes between 1 and 2 hours. However, if an artery blockage is detected, your physician may want to treat it with an additional catheterization procedure.

You should usually not eat or drink after midnight the night before the test. Talk to your doctor about any medications you may be taking, and whether you should or should not take them as normal on the day of the test. In either case, you should bring all your medications, in their original containers, to the test to be sure your physician is aware of them.

Where is the test performed?

In the cardiac catheterization lab.

How long does this test take?

Approximately 45 minutes to an hour.

How do I prepare for a Cardiac Cath?

Unless otherwise instructed by your doctor, continue to take your medications. Be sure to tell your doctor if you take a blood thinner such as Coumadin® or Plavix®. If you take medication for diabetes, please talk to your doctor about the dose that you should take the morning of the procedure.

It is important that your stomach is empty for the test. Discontinue eating or drinking after midnight. If you are taking medications, do so with a small sip of water. You will need to have a driver take you home.

You will be asked to change into a hospital gown. You may wear glasses, dentures and hearing aids during the procedure. Rings may also be worn. However, please remove any necklaces or dangling jewelry.


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