A catheter is a thin, flexible tube that is used to access the heart. The tube is inserted into a vein, most commonly in your arm, leg or neck, and is moved up through an artery (large vein) into your heart. From there your doctor is able to make assessments of the heart, identify problems, and conduct certain procedures.

What is a cardiac catheterization done for?

Cardiac catheterization, also called "heart cath" or just "cath," may be used for:

  • Angiography – an imaging procedure that allows the doctor to see high-quality photos of the heart and coronary arteries
  • Biopsies – a procedure to obtain a tissue sample from the heart to examine it under a microscope for heart disease
  • Coronary angioplasty and stenting – a procedure involving a balloon that helps widen the arteries and restore blood flow; stents keep the arteries from closing or collapsing again

A heart cath also allows the doctor to check the pressure of the four chambers of the heart, check the function of the heart, and check for atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries).

Are you awake during a heart catheterization?

Cardiac catheterization usually takes place in a hospital setting. It is not a painful procedure though you may experience some aching or pain in the vein after the catheter is removed. You will be awake throughout the process, but you will receive medication to help you relax. Your doctor will discuss everything with you in advance.

Depending on the results of your catheterization, your doctor may advise additional treatments or in some cases may recommend surgery as the next step.

To schedule an appointment with a Lankenau Heart Institute specialist, call 1.866.CALL.MLH (1.866.225.5654) or use our secure online appointment request form.