Question: What is a cardiac catheterization, what does it show my doctor, and what are the dangers?
Answer: Cardiac catheterization refers to inserting a catheter, which is a hollow tube, through a blood vessel and going up to the heart, which is cardiac. Through that tube we inject x-ray dye, allowing the physician to determine the number of blockages and where the blockages are located within the coronary arteries.
In addition, the physician can look at the pump function of the heart and determine whether there's problems in the valves, either blocked valves, or leaky heart valves. It's performed very commonly. More than a million patients a year in this country undergo cardiac catheterization, and it is relatively safe.
There are some risks of allergy to the x-ray dye, some bruising or bleeding at the blood vessel where we go into, which normally is down in the groin area, but sometimes in the wrist. And there's very rare problems with heart attack, stroke, or death, but that occurs very uncommonly, and usually occurs in patients who are extremely sick, for example, in the midst of a heart attack when they come in for the procedure.
Now the reason that the cardiac catheterization is important, is because it allows the physician to determine whether there are critical blockages, and by critical I mean between the range of a 70 percent blockage or up to 99 or even 100 percent blockage. It allows the physician to determine whether these blockages can be treated by mechanical means using a balloon or a stent, and in some situations, they may be so severe, that we would recommend open heart surgery, or bypass surgery, where the physician would create a detour or bypass around the blockage.
In addition it allows one to determine the pump function of the heart, which is extremely important in terms of adjusting medications and determining your long-term prognosis. And then finally, one can look at the valves, in which case, if they're leaking severely or severely blocked, those may also need to be treated either with balloon techniques or with open heart surgery.