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Cardiac Catheterization

(757) 668-7000

What is a cardiac catheterization?

A Cardiac Catheterization or “heart cath” is a special X-ray of the heart. The cardiologist is the doctor who does this test. It is done by threading special catheters into your child’s heart through blood vessels in the leg or arm. X-ray dye is put through these catheters so that pictures of the inside of your child’s heart can be taken. These pictures will help the cardiologist see how your child’s heart is working. The results of this test are used to plan your child’s treatment, which may include medicines or surgery. The cardiologists and heart surgeons will meet together to discuss plans for your child’s care.

Getting ready

A couple of weeks before the heart cath, you will receive a letter from the cardiology office. The letter will tell you the date of the test, the time to arrive in Day Surgery, and when to eat or drink before the cath. PLEASE FOLLOW THESE INSTRUCTIONS CAREFULLY! Do not give your child his/her normal medicines on the day of the catheterization unless otherwise instructed. Your child may or may not spend the night in the hospital after the cath. If you have any questions, please feel free to call the Cardiology office at 668-7214.

ONLY two adults may come with your child to the hospital and no other children.

On the morning of the heart cath, you will first report to the Day Surgery Unit on the third floor. A nurse will examine your child and prepare him/her for the heart cath. The cardiologist will check your child and answer any questions you may have. An intravenous (IV) line may be started. This is done so that your child can receive fluids while he/she is not able to eat and drink during the procedure. Your child may receive “pre-cath” sedation either by mouth, IM (intra-muscular) shot, or by IV before leaving for the cath lab. This medicine can help to make your child less anxious and very sleepy.

Your child will then be taken to the cath lab. You will be taken to the Parent’s Waiting Room where you will wait until the test is over. Your cardiac nurse coordinator, cardiac social worker or the cath lab staff will keep you updated during the procedure.

What is the Cath Lab like?

There is a long special bed in the middle of the room, surrounded by many large machines. A “camera-like” machine hangs from the ceiling, and there are monitors, which look like TV sets on one side of the room. The cardiologist, nurse, and/or technicians will be there to perform the heart cath. They will be wearing caps, masks over their nose and mouth, and special clothing. An anesthesiologist may also be present if needed.

How the test is done:

Your child will lie on a special sliding bed. If your child is still awake at this point, the doctor will give more medication through the IV to make him/her sleepy. This medicine can be given throughout the procedure if needed.

EKG electrodes will be placed on your child’s chest or arms and legs so that the heart beat and rhythm can be checked during the test. A special piece of tape will be placed on your child’s finger or toe to monitor his/her oxygen content. Once your child is sleepy, his/her skin will be washed with a special soap. Sterile (germ-free) sheets are placed on your child’s skin around the area where the catheter will be placed. Next, the cardiologist will thread the catheter into the vessel and up into the heart watching this on the TV screen. Once the catheter has been placed in the correct heart chamber, special X-ray dye will be used to make the pictures brighter.

After the test is finished, the catheters are removed. Pressure is applied to the site to prevent bleeding or the development of a hematoma (bruise). A bandage will be placed over the catheter site. Your child will be moved to the PACU to wake up.

Once your child is in the PACU, the cardiologist will talk with you in the Parent’s Waiting Room and tell you about the heart cath. Two people will be allowed to stay with your child in the PACU. When your child is ready, he/she will be moved to a room for the night or to stepdown PACU before being discharged home.

After the test

Your child will need to stay in bed or in a reclining position for about six hours after the catheter has been removed to prevent any stress or pressure to the cath site. Once awake, your child will be given something to drink. When your child is drinking fluids well, the IV will be removed. The nurses will check your child’s pulse often in the extremity where the catheter had been placed. The nurses will also check the bandage for bleeding.


Before leaving the hospital, the cardiologist will go over some of the results of the heart cath and talk with you about plans for your child. Your doctor and the PACU nurses will also review how to care for the wound, bathing, and activity restrictions.

Disclaimer:This information is not intended to substitute or replace the professional medical advice you receive from your child's physician. The content provided on this page is for informational purposes only, and was not designed to diagnose or treat a health problem or disease. Please consult your child's physician with any questions or concerns you may have regarding a medical condition.

Reviewed: 07/2018

(757) 668-7000