During a cardiac catheterization, a healthcare provider analyzes the condition of your heart muscle, valves, and arteries. This can help detect problems such as blocked or narrowed arteries. A catheter is inserted into your arm or leg and carefully guided through the arteries to your heart. Once a special dye is injected, images produced by the catheterization will show up clearly on an x-ray screen, identifying any problems.
Cardiac catheterization (known sometimes as just "cardiac cath") is a diagnostic procedure that allows your doctor to study the condition of your heart, including the muscle, valves, and arteries.
If you have been experiencing symptoms because of a heart condition, such as chest pain, lightheadedness, breathing problems, or fainting spells, this procedure will allow problems such as blocked or narrowed arteries to be identified. If any problems are discovered, your doctor can recommend ways to treat them.
(Click Heart Catheterization for more information about the procedure.)
Several different heart diseases can affect your heart valves, your coronary arteries, and the pumping ability of your heart. Heart valves are made of thin flaps of tissue that open and close to let blood through. Sometimes, valves will stenose, or narrow. When this happens, blood is forced through a smaller opening than normal. Less blood circulates through the heart and to the rest of the body.
Another problem related to valves is called incompetence, also called regurgitation or leakage. This occurs when a valve does not close properly, allowing blood to leak backwards.
While there are four valves in the heart, during a cardiac catheterization, your doctor is only able to look at two of them, the aortic and the mitral.
Heart disease in the coronary arteries occurs when they become clogged from a buildup of cells, fat, and cholesterol. This buildup is called plaque. As the inside of the coronary arteries gather plaque and narrow, they restrict the flow of blood and oxygen to the heart muscle. Without proper blood and oxygen, the heart muscle eventually weakens and deteriorates. This decreases the heart's ability to pump normally.
When you are performing an activity that requires physical effort, your heart muscle demands more blood and oxygen. However, if the coronary arteries are narrowed or blocked, valves are not functioning properly, or the heart is not pumping effectively, this need cannot be met. As a result, you may experience symptoms, such as:
- Angina (chest pain)
- Irregular heartbeats
- Shortness of breath.
These symptoms may indicate heart disease, which can lead to a stroke, heart attack, or even heart failure.