What to expect with a left heart catherization
When something is happening with your heart, getting fast, accurate information is important. A left heart catheterization, or a left heart cath, can help. With this minimally invasive test, your cardiologist can gather the data they need to effectively diagnose and treat a range of cardiac conditions, including:
Coronary anatomy or blockages of the blood flow to your heart
Valvular heart disease
The anatomy of a left heart cath
A left heart cath examines and evaluates the left side of the heart, including the heart's left ventricle, aorta, aortic valve, and coronary arteries. A right heart cath examines the heart chambers on the right side, evaluating the heart's right atrium, right ventricle, and pulmonary artery.
During a left heart cath, an interventional cardiologist threads a thin, flexible tube called a catheter into your wrist or groin, and guides it to the left side of your heart. Most patients stay awake during this procedure. You will lie down on a table and your healthcare team may give you medications for pain and to help you relax, which are delivered through an IV in your arm.
You will also receive an injection of contrast, or dye, into your arteries. This dye makes blood flow more visible and helps identify any obstruction in the arteries that lead to your heart. Next, the cardiologist will insert the catheter into one of your arteries while using X-ray technology to help guide the catheter through to your aortic valve.
If blockages in the blood are found, the cardiologist can treat them during the catheterization. This is called an angioplasty, which can be done with or without stenting. Stenting is when a tiny mesh tube is placed in a coronary artery to hold it open after angioplasty. This common procedure helps improve blood flow to the heart and is sometimes an alternative to open-heart surgery for people who have coronary artery disease.
Once the catheter is in place, it can capture details about how your heart is working. Your cardiologist uses the catheter to measure pressure in your heart, helping determine how effectively it's pumping blood. The procedure can take one hour or longer if your cardiologist finds blockages in the arteries.
After your procedure
Immediately after your left heart cath, depending on the access site, you will either recover while lying `flat in bed or sitting in a reclining position. During this time, your healthcare team will observe your vital signs and check in with you about how you are feeling. Are you in pain? Do you notice any swelling or bleeding?
- When you are cleared to go home, your provider will give you a list of instructions to follow, which may include:
- Activities you can do and ones you should avoid
- Follow-up appointments you need to schedule
- Medication management
Once you are home, pay close attention to the area where the catheter was inserted. If you notice any of the following, you need to call your cardiologist:
- Blue color
- Extreme bruising
- Cold sensation
- Leaking fluid
These are signs that you may need further medical care. If you notice dramatic swelling or uncontrolled bleeding, call 911.
Preparing for your left heart cath
Prior to your left heart cath, it's important to follow your cardiologist's instructions for a successful procedure. You'll receive guidelines about what you can eat or drink before the test and when to stop eating and drinking, typically six to eight hours before the test begins. You will also receive guidance about the medications and supplements you can or can't take before your test. It's also important to have someone drive you home after your catheterization.
When you need cardiac care, the experts at Reid Health Heart & Vascular Center can provide accurate diagnosis and personalized treatment to enhance your health and well-being. Request an appointment today.