Heart catheterization for adults
with congenital heart disease
What is a heart catheterization?
It is a procedure that provides details about
your heart function and circulation. It helps
your doctor make a diagnosis and choose
proper treatment. It can be used to:
1. Assess the pumping function of the heart
2. Study the structure and function of heart
3. Study the structure and function of the
blood vessels of the body and lungs
4. Measure pressures and oxygen content
in the chambers of the heart and lungs
5. Look for coronary artery disease
6. Perform interventions to fix problems
with the heart or blood vessels
How is a heart catheterization
A thin flexible tube (catheter) is passed to
your heart and lungs through an artery or
vein in your groin. To make the heart
chambers and vessels visible on x-ray, dye is
injected through the tube into the heart
chambers and blood vessels. An x-ray
camera films the heart and its vessels as they
pump blood. These x-ray images can be
viewed right away so treatment decisions
can be made quickly.
Be sure to tell your doctor or nurse if you
are allergic to x-ray dye (contrast) or any
How the heart works
The heart is made up of strong muscle
tissue. Its main function is to pump blood to
the body and lungs. The heart is a hollow
organ. It has four chambers, two on the
right side and two on the left side. The
upper chambers are called the right and left
atrium. The lower chambers on each side
are called ventricles. All four chambers
work together to pump the blood and bring
vital nutrients and oxygen throughout the
The main pumping chamber is the left
ventricle. This chamber pumps blood
enriched with oxygen to all parts of the
body. The right ventricle pumps blood to
the lungs where it picks up fresh oxygen.
There are 4 valves in the heart. These
valves allow blood to move in only one
direction and prevent it from backing up into
the chamber it has just left.
ξ Mitral valve is between the left
atrium and the left ventricle
ξ Tricuspid valve is between the right
atrium and the right ventricle
ξ Pulmonary valve is between the right
ventricle and the pulmonary artery
(goes to lungs)
ξ Aortic valve is between the left
ventricle and the aorta (main artery
in the body)
The atrial and ventricular septum separate the right from the left side of the heart. These septum
keep blood enriched with oxygen pumping to the body, and deoxygenated venous blood
pumping to the lungs.
Before your heart catheterization
The night before
You will receive detailed instruction from
the cardiology team before the procedure to
prepare for the catheterization. These
include when and where to go to check into
the hospital, list of medicines that are
needed, and when to stop eating before the
1. Do not eat or drink anything after
2. If your catheterization is scheduled for
late morning or later, you will be told if
you can have a liquid breakfast.
Catheterizations are scheduled throughout
the day. If you are an outpatient, please
arrive at the time you were told to do so. If
you are an inpatient, your nurse will tell you
1. You will be asked to change into a
hospital gown (without snaps). You
may want to wear socks to the cath lab
as the room is kept very cool.
2. Take your medicine as instructed.
3. You may wear your glasses.
4. All nail polish must be removed.
5. Remove watches, earrings, necklaces or
medic alert bracelets.
Before leaving for the cath lab
1. A doctor or nurse explains the
procedure, its purpose, benefits and
2. You are asked to sign a consent form.
3. Most cardiac catheterizations in patients
with congenital heart disease are done
with anesthesia. You will meet the
anesthesia doctor before the procedure
and they will be in the cath lab for the
entire procedure monitoring you. With
anesthesia you will be asleep for the
procedure and should not have pain or
4. An IV (intravenous) line may be started
in your hand or arm.
5. You are asked to empty your bladder.
6. Staff will take you to the cath lab on a
7. Family members and guests are brought
to the cath lab waiting room.
In the cath lab
It is cool in the lab. You are helped onto the table. You lie flat so that the x-ray machine can
rotate around the upper part of your body. ECG patches (electrodes) are placed on your
shoulders, chest, arms, and legs. These patches are hooked to equipment that monitors your
Points of insertion
Your groin will be the main spot used for the heart catheterization. In rare instances, upper body
blood vessels are used. Your doctor will decide which spot to use. The right groin is most often
used in our laboratory. The area will be shaved if needed, and cleaned to remove any bacteria on
Since heart catheterization is done using sterile technique, the doctors in the lab will be wearing
sterile gowns, hats, masks, and gloves. You will be covered from your chest to feet with a sterile
Placing the catheters
The doctor makes tiny incisions in your
skin. A small hollow tube (a sheath) is
placed through the incisions into an artery
and vein. Catheters are then passed through
the sheath to your heart and lungs. Pressure
and oxygen readings are then made in your
heart and lungs. Pictures of the heart and
blood vessels can be made with the
catheters, contrast dye and the x-ray
After heart catheterization
The doctor will discuss results of the
procedure with you and your family right
after the procedure is finished. Your
treatment after the catheterization depends
on the type of heart problems that you have,
and what was done during the
After your heart catheterization, you will
return to a room to recover. You will be on
bed rest from two to several hours. This
depends on what you had done. The staff
will keep you comfortable with the use of
medicines and position changes.
ξ If you had a diagnostic
catheterization often you are
discharged home 4 to 6 hours after
ξ If you had an interventional
catheterization often you are
observed overnight in the hospital.
Before discharge from the hospital the
medical team will review the following
information with you:
1. How to care for the wounds.
2. Pain management.
3. New medicines.
4. When to call your cardiologist.
5. When to follow up with your
primary doctor and cardiologist.
UW/AFCH Pediatric and Adult Congenital Cardiology Clinic: 608-263-6420
After hours, nights, weekends, holidays, this number will give you the paging operator. Ask for
the pediatric cardiologist on call. Give the operator your name and phone number with the area
code. The doctor will call you back.
If you live out of the area, please call 1-800-323-8942 and ask for the pediatric cardiology clinic.
Your health care team may have given you this information as part of your care. If so, please use it and call if you
have any questions. If this information was not given to you as part of your care, please check with your doctor. This
is not medical advice. This is not to be used for diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. Because each
person’s health needs are different, you should talk with your doctor or others on your health care team when using
this information. If you have an emergency, please call 911. Copyright ©11/2016. University of Wisconsin Hospitals
and Clinics Authority. All rights reserved. Produced by the Department of Nursing. HF#7497