Cardiac catheterization is a procedure in which a long, flexible tube (catheter) is put into a blood vessel. The doctor then guides the catheter into the heart to find and treat heart problems. Dr. John Thomson, interventional cardiologist, answers common questions about cardiac catheterization.
So cardiac catheterization is a procedure that allows us to look directly at the heart and blood vessels from the inside. I often describe it as a keyhole procedure because we go through small blood vessels and up into the heart that allows us to get information about how the heart is working and problems that might be occurring. It's a procedure that we use to understand the heart and the blood vessels. We have lots of tests that we can do that don't require us to go into the heart itself. But sometimes we need a catheter to fully understand the problem that a child may have. So it's used in two broad situations. Firstly, to sometimes understand how the heart's working or not working better. And then secondly, and increasingly we use c studies to treat problems in the heart. So there are many problems and issues that we can treat through that same approach, through that same keyhole approach. No, it's not painful because almost always we do this procedure under general anesthetic. So a child having this procedure would be almost always asleep. And so they wouldn't feel anything while they're having the procedure. And afterwards they have a tiny little hole in one of the blood vessels which we put local anesthetic in to make comfortable. At the end of the procedure, there can be risks. Any invasive procedure where we're inside the heart or the blood vessels does come with risks. And it's one of the reasons that we generally don't do a catheter study unless we need to. It's not something we would do if there were non invasive alternatives. The risks very much depend on what we're trying to do with the catheter, whether we're just simply trying to understand the heart better or treating something. And the risk will vary depending on what we're doing well with any procedure. It's first and foremost about talking to that child. So they understand, I think dealing with the family, making sure that people are aware of what's going to happen, making sure that we're open and clear and honest with the child is important. And I find that when that happens, Children cope extremely well with this procedure during the procedure. Depending on what we're trying to do. We'll go up through a particular blood vessel and that will take us to a particular destination in the heart. Um Depending on where the problem is and what we're trying to understand or treat will um we will take a different route. Um And then from there, we'll take pictures from the inside of the heart. We'll measure pressures, sometimes measure some other indexes of how the heart's working and go on to treat if necessary. After the catheter is completed, uh we will carefully wake the child up from anesthetic. Uh We'll make sure that the access sites which are the holes in the blood vessel have stopped bleeding and are and have local anesthetic in. So they're completely numb. And at that point, the child will be brought back to the recovery unit on the recovery unit. The child will be observed for a number of hours to make sure that the anesthetic is worn off and that there are no issues related to the site of access. And once that's done, then depending on what we've done in the catheter, the child will either go home or potentially be admitted up to the floor to the ward for observation until the next morning where we would then discharge home after another check.