Cardiac Catheterisation

What is Cardiac Catheterisation (Coronary Angiography)?

Cardiac catheterisation is an invasive diagnostic procedure that provides important information about the structure and function of the heart. The procedure usually involves taking X-ray pictures of the heart's arteries (coronary arteries) using a technique called coronary angiography or arteriography.

Cardiac catheterisations produce coronary angiograms or arteriograms that can be used to help diagnose heart conditions, help plan future treatments and carry out certain procedures.

This procedure can be used too:

  • Help diagnose angina- where pain in the chest is caused by a restricted blood supply to the heart
  • After a heart attack to view where the hearts blood supply is blocked
  • To plan interventional or surgical procedures- such as a coronary angioplasty where narrowed or blocked blood vessels are widened
  • Diagnosing coronary heart disease (the build up of fatty substances in the arteries of the heart effecting the blood supply.)

What happens during a Coronary Angiography?

The procedure consists of a long thin flexible tube called a catheter being inserted into a blood vessel in your groin or arm. Using x-ray images as a guide, the tip of the catheter is passed up to the heart and coronary arteries. A special type of dye called contrast medium is injected into the catheter and X-ray images are taken.

The contrast medium is visible in these X-ray images clearly showing the blood vessels fluid travels through easily and highlighting the ones that are narrowed or blocked.

This procedure is performed under local anaesthetic, so you will be awake during the procedure. The area where the catheter is inserted will be numbed.

Possible Side Effects and Aftercare

Following the procedure, you will usually be able to leave the hospital on the same day after a period of rest and observation.

Most people feel fine a day or so after the procedure, although you may feel a bit tired afterwards. The wound site is likely to be tender for up to a week after the procedure. Bruising may last for several weeks. You will also be advised to avoid certain activities for a few days after the procedure such as bathing, driving or lifting heavy objects. During this recovery period, it is important to make sure that you are aware of any problematic signs. You should seek medical attention if swelling at the site of your wound gets worse or if you experience excessive bleeding or circulation problems in your limbs.

There are some complications (although rare) that can occur:

  • Being allergic to the contrast dye- this is uncommon, but you should always discuss any allergies with your cardiologist before having the procedure
  • Bleeding under the skin where the catheter was inserted- this should stop after a few days but contact your GP or consultant if you are concerned
  • A small risk of more serious complications, including damage to the artery in the arm or leg where the catheter was inserted.

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