What is Cardiac Catheterization?

A cardiac catheterization is a special test that the Pediatric Cardiologist can perform to study how your child’s heart looks and to obtain information about oxygen levels, pressures, and blood flow within the heart.

The test involves the insertion of thin, flexible plastic tubes called cardiac catheters into the vein or artery of your child’s upper leg. Occasionally the vein in the neck is used to insert a catheter. Your Pediatric Cardiologist will inform you if this is necessary. The catheters are advanced up into the heart and are guided by the cardiologist from chamber to chamber inside the heart. The catheters show up on X-ray, so the cardiologist can see exactly where the catheter is and where it needs to go next. As the catheter progresses from one chamber to the next a pressure measurement is made and a small sample of blood is analyzed for oxygen content. The heart continues to work normally throughout the test. During the test some iodine based dye, or contrast will be injected into the catheter. As the contrast is pumped through the heart it will be filmed under X-ray. This is called a “cine-angiogram”, The cine-angiogram will show how blood moves from chamber to chamber and then out to the lungs and body. This will also show how forcefully the heart pumps and if there are any unusual communications inside the heart or blood vessels. This contrast solution can make your child feel warm or flushed for a few seconds. This is normal and will pass quickly. The contrast will be removed from the blood by the kidneys and is passed out of the body in urine within 1 – 2 hours.

The cardiac catheterization is performed in a special X-ray room at the hospital. Strict sterile technique is used, including gowns, gloves, and masks to minimize the risk of infection. Your child will be given medication to make him/her sleepy throughout the test, and will be monitored closely. Two Pediatric Cardiologists will be present during the catheterization. Sometimes a Pediatric Anesthesiologist will also help with the test. If this is necessary your Pediatric Cardiologist will inform you when your child’s test is scheduled. The Cath Lab Staff will include at least one nurse and two or three X-ray technicians, all of whom are experienced in the care of children undergoing cardiac catheterization. During the test it is helpful if you or one of your family members can wait in the designated waiting area, so that any information can be delivered to you in a timely manner. Please let the nurse coordinator know if you need to leave the hospital for any reason.

Your child will sleep through the test with extra sedation given as needed in the I.V. The procedure will usually take between 1 1/2 and 3 hours. As soon as the test is over your Pediatric Cardiologist will come out to see you on your child’s condition and the results of the catheterization. The complete results will be available later in the week after the findings have been studied, calculations performed based on the information obtained, and your child’s case discussed fully with the other Pediatric Cardiologists and the Pediatric Cardiac Surgeons.