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Cardiac Catheterization

The MRI machine. Children's Hospital & Medical Center. Omaha, Nebraska.Cardiac catheterization, our most comprehensive diagnostic study, is performed in our hybrid cardiac catheterization lab, one of a few in the country.

This state-of-the-art catheterization lab combines the sophisticated technology required for cardiac catheterizations with the most advanced surgical equipment to allow physicians to perform both cardiac catheterization and cardiac surgery procedures individually or simultaneously in the same surgical suite without moving the patient. In some cases, the need for combined surgical intervention during catheterization is planned. In other cases, the need for surgery is not discovered until during the catheterization procedure. This hybrid catheterization lab allows teams of clinicians that specialize in catheterizations, interventional cardiology and surgery to work side-by-side in the same suite without ever moving the patient. This provides less risk to the patient, improved outcomes and shortened procedure times.

How is a catheterization performed?

A cardiac catheterization is used to diagnose and sometimes treat many different heart conditions. It is a test that can help your cardiologist learn more about how your child's heart is working and to help determine the best treatment plan. Dramatic advances in cardiac catheterization techniques allow cardiologists to treat more conditions in the catheterization laboratory than ever before.

Cardiac catheterization involves inserting a catheter -- a thin, flexible, hollow tube into a vein or artery, usually in the groin. A local anesthetic numbs the skin and muscle around the entry area where the catheter is inserted. Neither an incision nor stitches is necessary. Once the catheter has been inserted into the blood vessel, the cardiologist uses a fluoroscope, which allows the doctor to see into the arteries to guide the catheter into the different areas of the heart. The movement of the catheter within the heart is not painful, because the inner parts of the heart do not have nerve endings.

While the tube is in the heart, several procedures are done. These include recording blood pressures in the different heart chambers and blood vessels; evaluating oxygen content of the blood in each chamber of the heart; injecting a liquid dye through the catheter and filming X-ray "movies" called angiograms. These pictures enable the cardiologist to see most abnormalities inside the heart. The procedure can last between one and three hours depending on the patient.

Our cardiac catheterizations are always performed by a pediatric cardiologist and a team of qualified and trained professionals. To prevent infection, the catheterization is treated like a surgical procedure. This means that the staff wears sterile gowns and the patient is covered with sterile sheets.

After your child's catheterization, the cardiologist will review the findings with you. At a weekly cardiology conference, the catheterization results are reviewed by all the pediatric cardiologists and by the cardiac surgery team. This group of specialists carefully studies each child's heart problem and discusses the best treatment.

Who is a candidate?

A cardiac catheterization is performed after X-rays, electrocardiograms (referred to as EKGs or ECGs), echocardiograms (sound wave tests) and listening to the heart, have indicated that a definite heart problem exists. Several catheterizations may be necessary during your child's lifetime to evaluate changes in the heart or the results of an operation or a catheter intervention. Our patients range in age from one day to adulthood. No child is too small or too sick to have this test, but risks are higher in small and very ill children.

A cardiac catheterization may be performed on your child to:

  • Diagnose his or her heart problem.
  • Learn more about a heart problem.
  • Obtain cardiac tissue samples for biopsy.
  • If there is an abnormal heart beat, conduct an invasive electrophysiology study (EPS) in conjunction with a catheterization to locate the origin of the arrhythmia and determine how best to treat it.
  • Treat the heart problem through interventional catheterization.

What are the risks?

While every cardiac catheterization involves a small risk, the important knowledge gained by this test far outweighs the small risk involved. Possible complications include loss of circulation to a leg, blood clots (which could result in a stroke), bleeding, infection, perforation through a blood vessel or heart wall and even death. The pediatric cardiology team at Children's is highly skilled and experienced at performing this procedure and average five to six catheterizations in children every week.

What is done to prepare for the procedure?

About one hour before the test, your child will be given a sedative. General anesthesia usually is not needed. Once your child is in the cardiac catheterization room, a shot of local anesthesia (or numbing medication) is used where the catheter enters the skin. This shot may or may not be felt by the sedated child. Most children sleep soundly through the catheterization. If your child awakens during the procedure, more sedation usually is given through the catheter in the blood vessel.

Special Considerations

If your child has had a fever, cold, flu, diaper rash or any contagious disease (or exposure to one) during the week prior to admission, check with your child's cardiologist or cardiology nurse before coming to the hospital.

Discharge from the Hospital

We recommend showers and sponge baths instead of tub baths for three days following the catheterization or until the catheterization site in the groin is healed completely. Try to keep this area clean and dry.

Your child may resume normal activities the day after the catheterization. However, running, skating, jumping or vigorous sports are not recommended for one or two days. No swimming is allowed for approximately one week or until the catheterization site is totally healed. Your child may return to school the day after catheterization, unless otherwise directed by the cardiologist.

By the time your child goes home from the hospital, he or she will probably not need medicine for pain. However, if pain medication is needed, we recommend Tylenol.

Your child may resume a normal diet, unless otherwise directed.

When to call the Doctor

  • Fever more than 100.60F, lasting for 8 hours, during the week after catheterization.
  • Increasing redness or swelling around the catheterization site or any drainage from the catheterization site. A small amount of blood on the bandage is normal.
  • Bleeding at the catheterization site soaking through the bandage. (Apply pressure until bleeding stops, then notify the cardiologist.)


Same-day Discharge
If your child is discharged from the hospital the same day as the heart catheterization, bed rest is recommended for the rest of that day.

© Children's Hospital & Medical Center | In Affiliation with University of Nebraska Medical Center College of Medicine