A cardiac catheterization is a test used to study heart disease using catheters (hence the word catheterization).
These catheters make it possible to do many things such as measure the pressures inside the heart or its arteries; measure the amount of blood the heart is able to push; check the quality of the heart valves; or, finally, to photograph the inside of the heart or coronary arteries, by injecting an X-ray visible contrast or using special technologies.
When is it performed?
Cardiac catheterization is a fairly common procedure indicated when there is a need to diagnose (and potentially treat) various heart diseases such as angina pectoris, infarction, valvular diseases (stenosis or insufficiencies), arrhythmias (atrial fibrillation and bleedings with anticoagulants), heart failure, etc.
What are the risks involved?
A catheterization can have many risks, even life-threatening, but in the hands of a great specialist in Interventional Cardiology, it carries practically no serious risk in statistical terms.
Among the most frequent complications described during or after catheterization are vascular complications (hemorrhages and obstructions of the artery or vein) and arrhythmias, which are detected and resolved early, since the patient is subjected to permanent electrocardiographic monitoring.
What is the procedure?
It is a relatively simple procedure in concept. Through an artery or vein in the body (usually those of the forearm – radial, ulnar or brachial – but can be those of the legs or neck), we introduce a catheter (a long, thin hollow tube, less than 2mm) into the blood vessels and guide it until it reaches the heart. Once in the heart we use different technologies to perform the requested procedures.
What to expect after catheterization?
After catheterization we will obtain a diagnosis (or a definitive exclusion) of both the cause and the severity of the patient’s disease. In many cases, the patient may also be offered a non-surgical (percutaneous) treatment for the disease.
Among the treatments we perform through a simple puncture in a blood vessel we include, among others, the unblocking (angioplasty) of the coronary arteries (with or without stent), the treatment with dilatation (balloon dilatation) of the stenosis of the heart valves (mitral, aortic, pulmonary), the replacement of heart valves such as the aortic (TAVI) or the closure of holes in the heart or any of its cavities (atrial appendage).