Cardiac catheterization is a highly specialized, x-ray study of the heart which yields important information necessary to accurately evaluate problem areas in the heart and coronary arteries and pinpoint their exact locations.
Cardiac catheterization (abbreviated "cath") is an invasive technique and is performed under sterile conditions, but it is not considered surgery and may be done on an outpatient basis if conditions permit. The procedure takes about one hour, requires only a local anesthetic, and causes little, if any, discomfort. During catheterization, the patient is awake and connected to an electrocardiogram machine to monitor heart rate, rhythm, and blood pressure continuously.
During the catheterization, a sterile, thin flexible tube called a catheter is inserted into a blood vessel in the arm (brachial approach) or groin (femoral approach) and carefully guided through the vessel into a heart chamber or coronary artery. Pressures can be measured, and blood samples may be drawn from each chamber of the heart for diagnostic studies.
An x-ray sensitive dye, or contrast medium, is injected through a catheter so that the heart structure and its pumping action are revealed and can be viewed "live" on special video monitors. The large, x-ray camera (or fluoroscope) above the cath table records the course of the dye flowing through the blood vessels, and makes a motion picture of the process, called ciné angiography. The film (angiogram) outlines the interior of the heart and its valves, reveals obstructions in the coronary arteries, and identifies other potential danger areas.
The information provided by the catheterization procedure enables cardiologists to make the most accurate diagnosis and evaluate therapeutic alternatives.
In some cases drugs can be released through the catheter directly into blocked coronary arteries. New enzymes have been developed that can potentially stop or minimize the damage caused by a myocardial infarction (heart attack) in progress.
Presently, the Fort Lauderdale Heart Institute has two state-of-the-art catheterization labs which can operate around the clock.