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Your cardiac catheterization procedure

Cath Lab

Cardiac catheterization is an invasive procedure using a long, flexible tube that is inserted into an artery and gently directed toward the heart. This enables your doctor to look for blockages and determine if the blockages are dangerous. Sometimes catheterization is used to diagnose and treat serious blockages in blood vessels outside the heart. Certain interventional procedures may be performed during catheterization, including:

  • Angioplasty
  • Intracoronary stent
  • Atherectomy
  • Thrombolysis
  • Electrophysiology Procedures

If your cardiologist suspects that an intervention will be needed, he or she will discuss that possibility with you before your exam so that the intervention can be performed without an additional catheterization at a later time.

How to prepare:

  • Avoid eating and drinking for 6 to 8 hours before the procedure.
  • Arrange for a ride home after the procedure.
  • Discuss your medications with your doctor.

What to expect:

You will wear a hospital gown. During the procedure, you will lie on a special exam table with a large camera and several television monitors overhead.

Before the exam begins, a nurse will insert an IV into your arm for medications and fluids. You will be given a sedative to keep you comfortable, yet still awake. You may not remember the procedure.

Electrodes will be placed on your chest. The electrodes are painless and they will essentially feel like sticky patches with lightweight wires attached. The electrodes are attached to an electrocardiogram (EKG) machine that will chart your heart's electrical activity.

The nurse will let you know if the catheter will be inserted at your arm or your groin, then your skin will be cleansed with a special soap, and possibly shaved, at the site where the catheter will be inserted. A local anesthetic will be used to numb the catheter insertion site. Sterile drapes will be used to cover the insertion site during the procedure. A small cut is made in the skin, then the catheter will be inserted. You may feel pressure as the catheter is inserted, but you should not feel any pain.

Once the catheter is in place, the exam room lights will be dimmed and dye will be injected through the catheters to help the doctor better see the blood vessels, heart valves, and heart chambers.

The procedure generally takes about 1 hour for a diagnostic catheterization, but it will take longer if any interventional procedures are needed to treat blockages or other irregularities that are discovered while you are in the cath lab. 


  • You will be given specific wound-care instructions before you leave.
  • You may experience some soreness at the catheter entry site as the numbness wears off.
  • Do not drive for at least 12 hours after the procedure.

After an invasive procedure, your heart-care team may recommend a follow-up program to assist in your recovery and help you get back on the right path for long-term heart health.