Treatments & Therapies

Cardiac catheter examination – treatment, effects & risks

Cardiac catheterization

Since Etienne-Jules Marey and Auguste Chauveau developed cardiac catheterization between 1861 and 1863 , many risky heart operations have become superfluous, which is not only gentler on the patient, but also offers many advantages from a health-economic point of view.

What is a cardiac catheterization?

The aim of the cardiac catheter examination is primarily to examine the heart and the surrounding vessels. The advantage of this method compared to conventional surgery is that it is gentler on the patient, since the chest does not have to be opened.

Rather, the heart catheter examination is minimally invasive, which means that the entire operation is content with a small opening through which the catheter – a tubular medical instrument – is inserted. By irradiating the patient with X-rays, the attending doctor can follow the operation on the monitor. However, the cardiac catheter examination does not only serve to display the heart or the coronary arteries, but also offers the possibility of carrying out further treatment measures.

For example, blood vessels that are blocked during cardiac catheterization can be reopened by balloon dilatation. It is also possible to stabilize injured vessels from the inside with a stent – a metallic mesh. In addition, diseased or non-functional heart valves can be replaced without the need for major heart surgery.

The main tool used in cardiac catheterization is the catheter, a tubular device that wraps around a guide wire for its own stabilization. Depending on which parts of the heart are to be examined, it is decided from where the catheter is inserted. Venous and arterial veins that run in the wrist, groin and elbow are possible as insertion points for the heart catheter examination.

Function, effect & goals

Cardiac catheterization begins with anesthesia at the site where the catheter is to be inserted. Anesthetics are only administered at the patient’s express request, otherwise sedatives are used .

If a change of catheter is to be expected, a sluice is then placed at the puncture site as a simplified guide rail. The catheter is then inserted. The head part of the catheter is designed to be particularly soft in order to prevent injuries to the vessels. The catheter deforms when the direction changes so that there are just as few injuries when the catheter is pulled back. In addition, it is manoeuvrable. This is important insofar as it enables the doctor to continue guiding the catheter at the “right” branch.

Since the guide wire, which is wrapped around by the actual catheter, is made of metal, the catheter is visible when the patient is exposed to X-rays at the same time. The doctor can thus always see on the monitor where the catheter is currently located. However, the vessels and the heart itself are not visible under X-rays. Therefore, the patient is given a contrast medium .

However, this does not happen, as is the case with computed tomography , for example , in that the agent is injected into the patient’s veins, but is injected through the catheter itself into the vessels.

As soon as the catheter has arrived at its destination, further treatments can be carried out as part of the heart catheter examination, if this should be necessary at all, such as the balloon dilatation already mentioned. If the heart catheter examination is successfully completed, the patient cannot be discharged immediately afterwards. Because even with the utmost care on the part of the doctor, damage to the vessels cannot be ruled out and this can have unforeseeable consequences, the patient must remain under medical care for a few hours, if not a whole day, after the cardiac catheter examination before he can be discharged.

Risks & Dangers

Statistically, cardiac catheterization is a relatively harmless procedure. The number of patients who died in hospital as a result of cardiac catheterization was 1 percent (about 4,000 people), according to a 2009 quality study.

Cardiac catheter examinations, in which further treatment measures, such as balloon dilation, were carried out, the in-hospital mortality rate was twice as high, namely at 2.4 percent. Patients do not have to worry about radiation exposure either, as it is in the harmless range at 2,413 cGy*cm².

On the other hand, possible side effects with regard to the contrast medium could become problematic during a heart catheter examination. Patients with chronic hyperthyroidism are particularly affected here . The iodine contained in the contrast medium can lead to problems with the thyroid gland .

Lisa Newlon
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Hello! I am Lisa Newlon, and I am a medical writer and researcher with over 10 years of experience in the healthcare industry. I have a Master’s degree in Medicine, and my deep understanding of medical terminology, practices, and procedures has made me a trusted source of information in the medical world.