Understanding Your Child’s Heart Catheterization
What is a heart catheterization?
It is a procedure that gives details about your
child’s 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 done?
A thin flexible tube (catheter) is passed to
your child’s heart and lungs through an
artery or vein in the 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
your child is allergic to x-ray dye
(contrast) or any medicines.
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 child’s 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 your child needs to stop
eating before the procedure.
1. Babies and small children can have clear
liquids (apple juice, water, pedialyte)
until 2-4 hours before the
2. Older children should not eat or drink
anything after midnight.
3. If your child’s catheterization is
scheduled for late morning or later, you
will be told if your child can have a
Catheterizations are scheduled throughout
the day. If your child is an outpatient,
please arrive at the time you were told to do
so. If your child is already hostpialized at
AFCH, your nurse will tell you the time.
We will have a gown for your child to wear.
Bring your child’s socks or slippers to the
cath lab as the room is kept very cool. All
nail polish must be removed. Remove
watches, earrings, necklaces or medic alert
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 general anesthesia. You will meet
the anesthesia doctor before the
procedure and they will be in the cath
lab for the entire procedure monitoring
your child. With general anesthesia your
child will be asleep for the entire
procedure and should not have any
pain or anxiety. Most children breathe
in anesthesia to go to sleep while family
is in the room before any IV
(intravenous) line is placed.
4. Your child is asked to urinate before the
5. Staff will take you and your child to the
cath lab on a cart.
6. Family members and guests are brought
to the cath lab waiting room.
In the cath lab
It is cool in the lab. Your child is helped onto the table. Your child lies flat so that the x-ray
machine can rotate around the upper part of the body. ECG patches (electrodes) are placed on
your child’s shoulders, chest, arms, and legs. These patches are hooked to equipment that
monitors your child’s heart.
Points of insertion
The groin will be the main spot used for the heart catheterization. In rare instances, upper body
blood vessels are used. Your child’s doctor will decide which approach 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 the skin.
Since heart catheterization is done using sterile technique, the doctors in the lab will be wearing
sterile gowns, hats, masks, and gloves. Your child will be covered from chest to feet with a
Placing the catheters
The doctor will make tiny incisions in your
child’s skin. A small hollow tube (a sheath)
will be placed through the incisions into an
artery and vein. Catheters are then passed
through the sheath to the heart and lungs.
Pressure and oxygen readings are then made
in your child’s 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 child right
after the procedure is finished. Your child’s
treatment after the catheterization depends
on the type of heart problems that your child
has, and what was done during the
After your child’s heart catheterization, you
and your child will return to a room to
recover. Your child will be on bed rest from
two to several hours. This depends on what
was done. The staff will keep your child
comfortable with the use of medicines and
ξ If your child had a diagnostic
catheterization often you are
discharged home about 6 hours after
ξ If your child 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 child’s
5. When to follow up with your child’s
primary doctor and cardiologist
UW/AFCH Pediatric and Adult
Congenital Cardiology Clinic:
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
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#7496.