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Who Needs Cardiac Catheterization?

Doctors may recommend cardiac catheterization for various reasons. The most common reason is to evaluate chest pain.

Chest pain might be a symptom of coronary heart disease (CHD). Cardiac catheterization can show whether plaque is narrowing or blocking your coronary arteries.

Doctors also can treat CHD during cardiac catheterization using a procedure called percutaneous coronary intervention (PCI), also known as coronary angioplasty.

During PCI, a catheter with a balloon at its tip is threaded to the blocked coronary artery. Once in place, the balloon is inflated, pushing the plaque against the artery wall. This creates a wider path for blood to flow to the heart.

Sometimes a stent is placed in the artery during PCI. A stent is a small mesh tube that supports the inner artery wall.

Most people who have heart attacks have narrow or blocked coronary arteries. Thus, cardiac catheterization might be used as an emergency procedure to treat a heart attack. When used with PCI, the procedure allows your doctor to open up blocked arteries and prevent further heart damage.

Cardiac catheterization also can help your doctor figure out the best treatment plan for you if:

  • You recently recovered from a heart attack, but are having chest pain
  • You had a heart attack that caused major heart damage
  • You had an EKG (electrocardiogram), stress test, or other test with results that suggested heart disease

Cardiac catheterization also might be used if your doctor thinks you have a heart defect or if you're about to have heart surgery. The procedure shows the overall shape of your heart and the four large spaces (heart chambers) inside it. This inside view of the heart will show certain heart defects and help your doctor plan your heart surgery.

Sometimes doctors use cardiac catheterization to see how well the heart valves work. Valves control blood flow in your heart. They open and shut to allow blood to flow between your heart chambers and into your arteries.

Your doctor can use cardiac catheterization to measure blood flow and oxygen levels in different parts of your heart. He or she also can check how well a man-made heart valve is working and how well your heart is pumping blood.

If your doctor thinks you have a heart infection or tumor, he or she may take samples of your heart muscle through the catheter. With the help of cardiac catheterization, doctors can even do minor heart surgery, such as repair certain heart defects.

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Last Updated: January 30, 2012