Learn about the heart cath procedure and what to expect post-procedure.

If you have chest pain or other signs of heart problems, your doctor might recommend a cardiac catheterization. Also called a cardiac cath or heart cath, this procedure can help your doctor diagnose and treat blocked arteries and other heart problems. Learn the facts about this common procedure, and what you can expect.

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Do I Need a Heart Cath?

If you have signs of a heart problem, your doctor will order tests to find out what’s causing your symptoms. Depending on your test results, you might need a catheterization, especially if you have:

  • Symptoms like chest pains, shortness of breath, or pain or pressure in your shoulders, arms, jaw, neck, or back,
  • Signs of a heart defect, a problem with your heart muscle, or abnormal heart valves

You also may need a cath if you’re scheduled for heart surgery, or if you’ve had a heart attack.

What Can I Expect During and After Cardiac Catheterization?

Catheterization happens in a hospital, in a special room called a catheterization laboratory, or cath lab. Your doctor will talk with you about what to do before your procedure, including whether or not you can take your regular medicines.

During cardiac catheterization: What to expect

During your procedure, you’ll be awake and, you’ll get medicine to help you relax. Depending on your condition and medical history, your doctor will choose an artery in your leg or arm to insert the catheter. Your doctor makes a small puncture in your skin, and then puts the catheter into your blood vessel. You may feel some pressure when your doctor puts the catheter in, and the insertion area might be sore afterward. Many people have bruising as well.

Your doctor guides the catheter into your heart and uses a special dye to make your blood vessels show up on an x-ray called an angiogram. The angiogram will show if you have blocked or narrowed arteries. If you do, your doctor might perform angioplasty and stenting to open up the blockage and help your blood flow better.

After cardiac catheterization: What to expect

Once the procedure is done, your doctor removes the catheter and puts a bandage on the puncture site. You’ll stay in the hospital for a few hours, or overnight, while you recover.

Is Cardiac Catheterization Risky?

Cardiac catheterization is very common and rarely causes serious problems, but all medical procedures have some risks. Some cardiac cath risks can include:

  • Bleeding, infection, and pain at the catheter insertion site
  • Damage to your blood vessels
  • Allergic reaction to the dye that is used during cardiac angiography

Less common risks can include:

  • Arrhythmia, or irregular heartbeat
  • Kidney damage from the dye
  • Blood clots, which can cause a heart attack, stroke, or other serious problem
  • Low blood pressure
  • A buildup of fluid around the heart

Learn more about the UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute’s cardiac catheterization services or call 1-855-UPMC-HVI (876-2484) to schedule an evaluation with a catheterization specialist.

Editor's Note: This article was originally published on , and was last reviewed on .

About Heart and Vascular Institute

The UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute has long been a leader in cardiovascular care, with a rich history in clinical research and innovation. As one of the first heart transplant centers in the country and as the developer of one of the first heart-assist devices, UPMC has contributed to advancing the field of cardiovascular medicine. We strive to provide the most advanced, cutting-edge care for our patients, treating both common and complex conditions. We also offer services that seek to improve the health of our communities, including heart screenings, free clinics, and heart health education. Find an expert near you.