Cardiac Catheterization Risks and Procedure Guide

Page content

Cardiac catheterization is a procedure that is used to look for several different cardiovascular conditions, specifically heart artery blockages that could result in a heart attack. Certain other treatments for heart disease are also done during this procedure, such as coronary angioplasty. Many patients are concerned about the possible cardiac catheterization risks and they should take the time to learn about these prior to having this procedure done.

Why is Cardiac Catheterization Done?

In general, this procedure is done to determine whether or not a patient has a heart problem, or it is performed as a part of a procedure to work on and correct a pre-existing heart condition. When this is done as a test for heart disease, the patient’s doctor can:

  • Determine how much oxygen is in the patient’s heart
  • Biopsy a sample of the patient’s heart tissue
  • Look for heart valve problems
  • Locate blockages or narrowing in the patient’s blood vessels
  • Test the pressure inside the patient’s heart
  • Diagnose congenital heart defects

The procedures that can be done along with cardiac catheterization include:

  • Angioplasty with or without stent placement
  • Balloon valvuloplasty
  • Closure of holes in the heart

Cardiac Catheterization Procedure

Before the test the patient will be mildly sedated with intravenous sedatives to aid in relaxation. An IV will then be placed in one of the patient’s blood vessels in the neck, arm, or groin after the site is cleaned and numbed with a local anesthetic. A catheter is then inserted through this IV and carefully threaded into the patient’s heart. A fluoroscope is used to ensure the catheter is properly placed. Once the catheter is in place, the patient’s doctor may do a variety of things, such as:

  • Collect blood samples directly from the heart
  • Measure how much oxygen is in the different areas of the heart
  • Do a heart muscle biopsy
  • Measure blood flow and pressure in the large arteries surrounding the heart and the chambers of the heart
  • Examine the heart’s arteries with a fluoroscope

What to Expect with this Procedure

The cardiac catheterization procedure is done in a catheterization lab. Since needles are being inserted into an artery, the patient could experience some discomfort and mild pain. Recovery takes several hours. Once the patient leaves recovery they will be placed in a regular hospital room and the IV used for the catheter will be removed. To allow the artery to heal and avoid serious bleeding, patients must lie flat for up to six hours. The patient’s condition will determine how long they stay in the hospital.

What are the Risks of Cardiac Catheterization?

Major complications are rare, but there are several risks all patients should be aware of. These include:

  • Bruising
  • Heart attack
  • Damage to the artery the catheter is placed in
  • Allergic reactions to the medications or dyes used
  • Kidney damage
  • Blood clots
  • Bleeding
  • Stroke
  • Irregular heart rhythms
  • Tearing of the artery or heart tissue
  • Infection


WebMD. (2010). Cardiac Catheterization. Retrieved on July 24, 2010 from WebMD:

Medline Plus. (2009). Cardiac Catheterization. Retrieved on July 24, 2010 from Medline Plus: