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Cardiac Catheterization

Cardiac Catheterization: Answers for Parents

If your child's cardiologist recommends cardiac catheterization to help with the diagnosis, you'll probably have questions. 

Why Cardiac Catheterization?

Cardiac catheterization allows the physician to look at the blood vessels and the chambers of the heart. It can show where arteries may be narrowed or blocked. It can also show whether there are any problems with the heart valves or muscles.

What Will Happen Before

Sometime during the week of the procedure, a nurse will walk you through everything you need to know to get your child ready for the catheterization. Before the procedure — usually the day before the test — your child will need to have a chest X-ray and blood tests.

When it's time for the actual procedure, your child will be given a sedative to make them sleepy and comfortable. The only mild discomfort your child may experience is the "stick" of the local anesthetic as it's injected into the groin area where the catheter will be inserted. Once sedated, your child will have an IV started, as well. The IV allows your child's care team to adjust medication throughout the procedure. Most children sleep through the entire catheterization, which lasts from one to three hours.

What to Expect During

Using X-ray images as a visual reference, your child's cardiologist will insert a small, thin, flexible catheter into a vein or artery in the groin, then guide it to your child's heart. With the catheter in place, several tests may be performed to gather important information. Tests may include:

  • Blood samples
  • Blood pressure measurements for the different chambers and blood vessels
  • Angiograms, which use a special dye injected into the catheter and moving X-ray pictures to show the heart's anatomy and blood vessels

What to Expect After

Following the catheterization, you'll be able to reunite with your child in the recovery area. Most children spend one to two hours in recovery, under close observation. Some children may require more time in recovery or even an overnight admission. Your child:

  • Will have a thick pressure dressing of elastic tape and gauze sponges covering the catheter site
  • May be sleepy from the sedation
  • Will need to lie flat for six hours to prevent bleeding. (Younger children may need additional sedation to keep still.)

When your child is ready to go home, a nurse will make sure you have the supplies you need to take care of the catheter-insertion site and go over discharge instructions with you. For one week following catheterization, your child should not take tub baths, go swimming, ride straddle toys or bicycles, or play contact sports. Other than that, your child may resume normal activity.