Cardiac Catheterization

A cardiac catheterization (also called “cardiac cath”) is performed to evaluate coronary artery disease, congestive heart failure, certain congenital (present at birth) heart conditions and valvular heart disease. This diagnostic procedure is often the first step before treatment such as an angioplasty.

Through diagnostic catheterization, interventional cardiologists measure the blood flow and internal pressures of the heart, assess heart valve leakage or blockage, and with angiography, examine the insides of the arteries throughout the body for blockages.

Interventional cardiologists in the Heart & Vascular Center perform over 4,000 procedures each year Interventional Cardiology Program at Brigham and Women's Hospital (BWH), including angioplasties and outpatient procedures, such as diagnostic catheterization. These diagnostic and interventional laboratories at the Shapiro Cardiovascular Center utilize state-of-the-art digital equipment to acquire and process images, as well as the most current medical devices and technologies to treat cardiovascular conditions.

With 47,000 outpatient visits each year, the Heart & Vascular Center is one of the largest in the United States, treating over 7,000 inpatients and performing more than 8,000 procedures annually at our state-of-the-art Shapiro Cardiovascular Center.

Cardiac Catheterization

What Happens During a Cardiac Catheterization?

In cardiac catheterization a very small hollow tube, or catheter, is advanced from a blood vessel in the groin or arm through the aorta into the heart. Once the catheter is in place, several diagnostic techniques may be used. The tip of the catheter can be placed into various parts of the heart to measure the pressures within the chambers.

The catheter can be advanced into the coronary arteries and a contrast dye is then injected and is photographed with X-ray to guide the catheter to the affected area to be examined. From the digital pictures of the contrast material, the doctors can tell the location and severity of the occlusion (blockage).

Angioplasty, percutaneous (through the skin) coronary intervention, and stenting may be done as part of, or following, a catheterization. The patient remains awake during the procedure, although a small amount of sedating medication is given prior to the procedure to ensure the patient remains comfortable. Cardiac catheterization rarely causes serious complications.

Watch this video on cardiac catheterization.

Why Have a Cardiac Catheterization?

Because the timely diagnosis of a serious heart condition is of utmost importance, cardiac catheterization plays an essential role in evaluation of cardiac disease.

Cardiac catheterization is performed to evaluate and confirm coronary artery disease, valvular heart disease, congestive heart failure and/or certain congenital (present at birth) heart conditions.

A cardiac catheterization can also treat coronary artery disease with placement of a stent.

What You Should Expect

The Heart & Vascular Center is located in the Shapiro Cardiovascular Center, across the street from BWH’s main 75 Francis Street entrance. The Heart & Vascular Center brings together the full range of services in one location, fostering seamless and coordinated care for all cardiovascular patients.

If you are a procedure, you will likely be scheduled for a visit to the Watkins Clinic in the Shapiro Cardiovascular Center for preoperative information and tests.

The day of your procedure, your care will be provided by interventional cardiologists, anesthesiologists and nurses who specialize in cardiac catheterizations. After your procedure, you will recover in the post-surgical care unit where you will receive comprehensive care by an experienced surgical and nursing staff.

Family and friends can wait in the Shapiro Family Center where staff members will provide updates.

Multidisciplinary Care

In addition to our interventional cardiologists, patients also benefit from the teamwork of cardiovascular imaging experts and radiologists, and anesthesiologists, all experts in cardiac disorders. They work alongside nurses, physician assistants, physical therapists, dietitians and social workers to achieve outstanding outcomes for our patients.


Learn more about cardiac catheterization in our health library.

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Learn about the Watkins Clinic in the Shapiro Cardiovascular Center.

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