​Children's Heart Center

Cardiac Catheterization

Cardiac catheterization is a specialized procedure in which a small, long, flexible tube (catheter) is inserted into a vein or artery and guided into the heart or surrounding areas. The procedure is performed in the hospital by specially trained pediatric congenital interventional cardiologists and can be used to diagnose and treat congenital heart disease without surgery.

Children's Heart Center Cath Lab

Performing a Cardiac Cath

Before the Procedure

  • Patients and family members will meet their interventional cardiologist. The physician will discuss the benefits and risks of the procedure, answer questions and get written permission to perform the catheterization. Even if you discussed the procedure before, the cardiologist will review it again to be sure you have a strong understanding of the procedure.
  • An anesthesiologist specializing in caring for patients with heart disease will share the plan for keeping the patient safe and comfortable. Frequently, patients will be given a sedative to help them relax before being taken to the cardiac catheterization laboratory, or cath lab. In most cases, patients will receive a general anesthetic, a breathing tube and will remain completely asleep throughout the procedure.
  • Once in the cath lab, the patient will lie on a table with specialized, low-dose X-ray equipment nearby. Heart monitors and other equipment will be there, too, to help assess the patient’s condition at all times. Our team of doctors, nurses and technicians will make sure the patient is comfortable and safe throughout the experience – this is a top priority for the team.

During the Procedure

  • Once asleep, the patient will be given an injection of local anesthetic where the catheter will be inserted, most often in the upper leg at the crease where it bends when sitting. A small sheath will be inserted to prevent excessive bleeding and serve as the entry point for catheters used during the procedure.
  • Next, the cardiologist will guide a catheter through the vein or artery toward the heart using short-running X-rays, called fluoroscopy, to see the movement of the catheter. As needed, the catheter will be guided to different parts of the heart and into the blood vessels leading in or out of the heart. Catheters measure heart and blood vessel pressure, provide the path for injection of contrast dye to obtain images, and even can be used in conjunction with other products to correct structural problems.
  • While the catheters are in place, cardiologists can perform many diagnostic tests to evaluate the heart structures and the pattern of blood flow inside the heart. If treatment (intervention) is needed, this usually takes place during the same procedure. Additional pictures or pressures are often taken after intervention to help evaluate the procedure’s success.

After the Procedure

  • When the case is complete, the catheter(s) will be withdrawn while the patient is still in the procedure suite. Bleeding is usually stopped by holding pressure on the catheter site for several minutes – longer for large sites. Stitches at the insertion point are rarely needed. If blood vessels in the leg were used, the patient will need to keep the leg straight for a few hours to minimize the chance of bleeding.


  • Once the patient is removed from the procedure suite, he or she is taken to a specialized nursing unit and monitored for several hours. How long it takes for the patient to wake up after the procedure will depend on the type and dose of sedation or anesthesia given, as well as possible reactions to it. During recovery, nurses will monitor the patient’s pulse and skin temperature in the leg or arm used for the procedure.