It can be worrying when a doctor advises you to have tests on a part of your body as important as the heart. By taking X-ray pictures (angiogram) of your heart's arteries, cardiac catheterisation gives your doctors a clear picture of what is happening to help them make an accurate diagnosis.
Your surgeon will insert a fine tube into a small cut in your arm or groin and guide it to the heart. X-ray images taken after a dye is inserted through the tube will help doctors diagnose your condition.
Doctors will recommend you have a cardiac catheterisation if they are concerned that there may be a problem with your heart - or if you've had a heart attack.
You should always get chest pains or other symptoms of cardiac (heart) problems checked out: that way you can either get a quick diagnosis and start appropriate treatment.
Cardiac catheterisation helps your cardiologist or other doctors diagnose a range of cardiac diseases by taking an X-ray picture of a dye (or contrast) flowing through your heart's blood vessels. The dye is released from a fine tube (a catheter) that a doctor will guide to your heart after making a small cut in your arm or groin.
The results help your doctors plan your medical care if the test confirms you have a heart condition. The test can diagnose and help develop treatment plans for common heart problems such as:
You'll be awake during the procedure but the area where the cut is made to insert the tube will be numb as you'll have a local anaesthetic before the test.
The procedure normally takes around 30 minutes.
We understand that your heart is in our hands. There is no greater trust and we take caring for you very seriously. If you decide to have this procedure with us, you’ll be looked after by a you’ll be looked after by an experienced multi-disciplinary care team. Your heart is in our hands, and we take caring for it very seriously.
To work for us, our consultant cardiac surgeons and cardiologists have to demonstrate their expertise in complex cardiac surgery and their chosen sub-specialty. A number of our expert consultants also have international reputations in their specialised fields.
They have access to some of the latest generation cardiology equipment from across our network of hospitals so they can fully assess your condition.
Our patients are at the heart of what we do and we want you to be in control of your care. To us, that means you can choose the consultant you want to see, and when you want. They'll be with you every step of the way.
All of our consultants are of the highest calibre and benefit from working in our modern, well-equipped hospitals.
Our consultants have high standards to meet, often holding specialist NHS posts and delivering expertise in complex sub-specialty surgeries. Many of our consultants have international reputations for their research in their specialised field.
You will have a formal consultation with a healthcare professional. During this time you will be able to explain your medical history, symptoms and raise any concerns that you might have.
We will also discuss with you whether any further diagnostic tests, such as scans or blood tests, are needed. Any additional costs will be discussed before further tests are carried out.
You should tell us about any allergies to medication, existing heart conditions and any medicines you're taking. It's likely these will come up when we take your medical history but it's worth making sure.
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During your initial consultation with your cardiologist or in written information sent to you before the procedure, we will have explained if you need to stop taking any medication before the test - and most importantly how long before. It's clearly very important that you should carry on taking prescribed medication unless your cardiologist or another doctor tells you stop taking it.
We'll also tell you how many hours before the test you should stop eating and drinking.
You'll have a local anaesthetic before your cardiac catheterisation, which is likely to take around half an hour to take effect.
That means you'll be awake during the test but the area of your arm or groin where a cut is made to insert the fine tube (or catheter) will be numb so you should not be in pain.
However you'll feel different sensations at time, such as a metallic taste in the mouth.
Your cardiac surgeon or cardiologist will guide the tube through your blood vessels and into your heart. Here it will release a small amount of dye to enhance the X-ray (angiograms).
Sometimes it can be clear during the test that you need an intervention - for example a balloon angioplasty to widen blocked arteries. Your doctors should have talked to you about this beforehand or it may be an emergency - in either case it will be carried out immediately.
After removing the catheter there will be bleeding from the site of the cut. Clinicians will stop the bleeding by applying pressure to this area for about ten minutes if it is in the groin or close it up with plugs or clips. They will apply a tight dressing around the cut if it was in your arm.
After this, you will be taken to your room or comfortable area where you can rest and recuperate until we feel you’re ready to go home.
Unless you are in hospital for treatment following a heart attack or for other cardiac problems, you will probably be able to go home on the day of the test.
We'll check your pulse and blood pressure and confirm when it's ok to go home.
You will feel tender at the site of the cut in your arm or groin but we'll give you pain relief to help with this and it should settle down after about a week. Suffering from pain could slow down your recovery, so please discuss any discomfort with your doctors or nurses.
Apart from feeling a bit tired, you're likely to recover within about 24 hours - apart from the tenderness at the site of the cut. However there may be bruising around the cut site for up to 14 days.
You should try to keep the wound dry so it's best not to have a bath for a couple of days. You might want to shower instead while trying to keep the wound out of the water.
Avoid anything too energetic - particularly heavy lifting - for a couple of days. You should follow whatever advice your doctors have told you about over exertion generally if you have a heart condition.
Ask a friend or relative to drive you home - it's best to avoid driving for two or three days. If you live alone, ask if that person or another friend or relative will stay overnight to give you peace of mind.
Even after you’ve left hospital, we’re still looking after you every step of the way.
If you're having cardiac care with us, we'll book you an appointment to get the results of the test within a few days. Otherwise we will send them swiftly to your NHS doctors.
On rare occasions, complications following a cardiac catheterisation can occur. The chance of complications depends on the exact type of procedure you are having and factors such as your general health.
We will talk to you about the possible risks and complications of having this procedure and how they apply to you.
If you have any questions or concerns about your recovery, we're ready to help.
We are committed to delivering excellent individual care and customer service across our network of hospitals, clinics and specialist care centres around the UK. Our dedicated and highly trained team aim to achieve consistently excellent results. For us it's more than just treating patients, it's about looking after people.
The treatment described on this page may be adapted to meet your individual needs, so it's important to follow your healthcare professional's advice and raise any questions that you may have with them.