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Cardiac catheterization is a common procedure that is used to diagnose various heart ailments. It may also be recommended after a heart attack to identify blocked coronary arteries. However, there are risks associated with all invasive procedures and this is no exception. A better understanding of the procedure, will make us aware of the probable risks associated with it.

Cardiac Catheterization: An Overview

Cardiac catheterization is a procedure in which a catheter is used for diagnosis. A catheter is a long, slender, flexible tube that is threaded to the heart through a hole in one of the blood vessels of the arm or the neck, or in the femoral artery of the upper thigh. This procedure can be used by doctors to perform several diagnostic tests or treat ailments of the heart and the coronary arteries, like coronary angiography, angioplasty, balloon angioplasty and Percutaneous Coronary Intervention (PCI) angiography. For example, in a process called coronary angiography, a special dye is put into the heart through the catheter, to create x-ray images of the heart and coronary arteries. Such an image, termed as an angiogram, makes it easy to detect blockages in the arteries and other problems. After the completion of the procedure, the catheter is removed and a tight bandage is placed over the puncture site to prevent bleeding. The procedure is carried out in a hospital under local anesthesia. During the procedure, the patient will be kept awake and made to lie on his back. The patient is instructed to rest for at least eight hours, after the test. Complete cardiac catheterization recovery takes about two weeks. Enlisted below are some of the risks related to the procedure.

Risks of Cardiac Catheterization
  • There might be excessive bleeding from the point of insertion of the catheter.
  • The dye used in angiography might adversely affect the functioning of the kidneys.
  • An allergic reaction might be triggered by the dye used.
  • There is a possibility of infection at and around the point where the catheter is inserted.
  • The patient can experience a dip in blood pressure.
  • The catheter may damage blood vessels, resulting in severe pain and discoloration of the arm or the leg, where the catheter is inserted.
  • There is a risk of radiation hazard due to the exposure to radiation during treatment.
  • There is a possibility of formation of blood clots around the point of insertion of the catheter.
  • The patient may experience irregular heartbeats.
However, in extreme cases, it may lead to more serious complications, including renal failure, stroke or even heart attack. In addition to the risks and complications, it is also very important to note that this procedure is not recommended for older people and patients with the following medical conditions.
  • Hemophilia
  • Kidney problems
  • Diabetes
  • Previous occurrence of heart attacks
  • Heart infection
Alternatives to Cardiac Catheterization

There are non-invasive procedures that might be used as alternatives, ultrasound imaging being one of them. Ultrasound imaging can be used to visualize the valves of the heart and the coronary artery. Problems concerning the functioning of the heart can also be detected by ultrasound imaging. Nuclear medicine is another alternative, in which a small piece of radioactive material, a marker, is released into the bloodstream. Images are then generated, which show the areas of artery blockage. However, the patient is internally exposed to huge amounts of radiation. This is the reason why this procedure is not widely used.

Although there is a fair amount of risk involved in cardiac catheterization, it is one of the common diagnostic procedures for heart problems. It has been established that the mortality is a mere 0.11%. So, if you do not fall under any of the high-risk groups, then you can safely consider going for this procedure under a trained and experienced team of medical experts. However, make sure you consult your doctor regarding any additional precautionary measures that you may have to follow, before going for this diagnostic test.

Disclaimer: This Buzzle article is for informative purposes only, and should not be used as a replacement for expert medical advice.