Cardiac catheterization is a diagnostic test used to determine the condition of the arteries of the heart (coronary arteries). It is performed by puncturing an artery, almost always the radial artery, in the wrist, under local anesthesia. From there, one or more catheters (thin, flexible tubes made of a special plastic) are introduced into the heart, through which an iodinated contrast is injected into the arteries, making it possible to assess whether there are obstructions, narrowed areas or other anomalies.
What types of catheterizations are there?
There are different types of catheterization, depending on what we want to assess in the heart. The most common is what we call coronary angiography, because it allows us to study the condition of the coronary arteries.
On other occasions, the Cardiology specialist assesses how the heart valves work, or the range of pressures in the heart or pulmonary arteries.
What is the procedure and is it a risky treatment?
As described above, natural conduits (arteries or veins) are used to access the heart. For this reason, complications are very low and general anesthesia is not required (only local anesthesia in the puncture area) except in specific cases.
In some cases hematomas or bleeding may appear in the artery or vein access, and very infrequently a heart attack or stroke may occur during the procedure. The benefit versus risk of performing the procedure is always carefully weighed to avoid unwanted complications.
For what type of pathologies is a catheter used?
The most common is to be able to know how the coronary arteries are when there are suspected obstructions or very narrow areas. In these cases, the great advantage of catheterization today is that these obstructions can be resolved by performing an angioplasty through the catheter, which consists of dilating the narrowed area and implanting a stent (a coronary endoprosthesis) so that the artery remains open in the long term.
In other cases, when there are valve problems, a new valve (in the case of the aortic valve) can be implanted through the catheter. Residual defects or holes inside the heart can also be closed with specific devices, without the need to open the thorax.
What is the recovery time?
Diagnostic catheterizations (in which no specific intervention is performed) are usually outpatient procedures that do not require hospitalization and are discharged the same day. If a stent or prosthesis is implanted, the patient remains in the hospital for at least 24 hours.
Recovery after catheterization is usually very fast, since there are no scars limiting mobility, and infections are exceptional. The patient can return to normal life almost immediately. If any intervention is performed, a period of relative rest is recommended after the intervention.