What to Expect During Cardiac Catheterization

If your child has a heart problem or defect, he or she may be referred for cardiac catheterization to diagnose or treat the problem. The cardiac catheterization team at Columbia is made up of interventional cardiologists, nurses, technicians, child life specialists, and cardiac anesthesiologists who are all dedicated to this one specialized procedure. We work closely with every cardiology subspecialty at Columbia and NewYork-Presbyterian Morgan Stanley Children's Hospital so that you can be sure that your child is being cared for by a comprehensive team of experts.

Learn About Our Cardiac Catheterization Program

How should I prepare my child for the procedure?

Preparation for a cardiac catheterization procedure will depend on your child's age. Our team can help explain the procedure using language that he or she will understand, and our child life specialists are available throughout the process to help answer your child's questions and address his or her fears.

We will provide you with specific instructions before the procedure, including what and when to eat and drink. If your child gets sick before the procedure, please call our office. For mild colds we can often proceed with the catheterization as scheduled but may need to reschedule if he or she has a fever or flu.  

What will happen during the procedure?

On the day of the procedure, you and your child will be brought to the cardiac catheterization laboratory (usually referred to as the cath lab), a dedicated interventional cardiology suite that is located in NewYork-Presbyterian Morgan Stanley Children's Hospital. Your child will lie on a table and be given either medication to relax or anesthesia so that he or she can sleep through the procedure.

We will apply a local anesthetic to your child's groin, neck, or abdomen, depending on which blood vessel we will use. The interventional cardiologist will insert a sheath, and guide the catheter through the sheath and into the blood vessel.  

We use the most advanced 3D imaging to guide the catheter, and are continually developing new methods and using new technology to lower the risks of radiation exposure.  

We use the catheter to either diagnose or treat a heart problem. For a diagnostic catheterization, we may:

  • Take a tissue sample from the heart (biopsy)
  • Measure oxygen levels and blood pressure in different parts of the heart 
  • Inject contrast dye into the catheter and watch the path the dye takes through the heart to locate narrowing or blockages of the blood vessels (angiography)
  • Check the pumping function of the heart (right or left ventriculogram)
  • Look for problems with your child's heart valves

If cardiac catheterization is being used to repair a heart problem, our physician may:

  • Use a balloon to open a heart valve or narrowed blood vessel (balloon valvuloplasty or angioplasty)
  • Put a stent in an artery or vein that has narrowed to keep it open
  • Implant a heart valve
  • Close a hole in the heart

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After the procedure

After the cardiac catheterization procedure, your child will be taken to a recovery room where we can monitor him or her closely for several hours. There will be a "pressure bandage" on the site of the insertion to prevent bleeding. If the catheter was inserted in your child's leg or groin, he or she will need to keep the leg still for a few hours. Your child may experience some soreness and bruising at the insertion site for a few days after the procedure. 

Your physician will decide when you are ready to go home. Some children leave on the day of the procedure and some stay in the hospital for a day or more. We recommend that you come prepared for an overnight stay.

Are there any risks?

Cardiac catheterization is relatively safe when performed by an experienced interventional cardiologist. Rare complications, of which some may require emergency cardiac surgery, include:

  • Heart or vessel perforation
  • Bleeding
  • Stroke
  • Allergic reaction to the contrast materials