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Interventional Cardiology Program

Why do I need a Cardiac Catheterization?

There are a variety of reasons why you may need a cardiac catheterization, also known as a "heart cath" or "angiogram". You may have experienced shortness of breath, chest pain (angina), dizziness or irregular heartbeats. Even if you've had no symptoms, your doctor may have detected other signs of heart problems. Some patients may need a heart cath to check how well the heart is pumping and how well the valves are opening and closing. Cardiac catheterization is a procedure which can identify a specific problem within the heart.

During the test, a thin catheter is inserted into the artery or vein of an arm or leg, and then guided to the heart. Dye visible by x-ray is injected into the veins to see how the blood flows through the heart vessels. X-ray pictures are taken and a treatment plan is developed with your doctor if blockages are seen. It is important to tell your doctor if you are allergic to x-ray contrast dye. Your doctor can give you medication to prevent any allergy symptoms (e.g. rash, difficulty breathing, nausea or vomiting.) If blockages are found in your heart arteries, your doctor may recommend an angioplasty or stent procedure.

Watch an animated simulation of a cardiac catheterization.

Can I be helped if I already had Heart bypass surgery?

  • Embolic Protection Sometimes bypassed arteries have blockages. Our doctors at BWH may use a special filter to keep small fragments of the blockages from breaking off inside the vessel. A stent can then be placed in the bypass artery.
  • High Risk Angioplasty Many of our trained doctors specialize in providing other treatment options like high risk angioplasty for patients. Sometimes patients may not be candidates for surgery. Our Cardiac doctors who work in the Heart Catheterization Lab also work closely with Cardiac Surgeons and Vascular Surgeons. This combined effort gives patients more treatment options.

What is Coronary Artery Disease?

Coronary Artery Disease happens when fat and cholesterol builds up on the inside of your arteries. This build-up narrows or completely blocks the inside of the artery. Blood cannot flow freely through heart vessels. This may cause chest pain or heart attack.

What is Heart Failure?

Heart failure occurs when the heart muscle has weakened and cannot pump enough blood out with each beat or the heart muscle has become stiff. Your heart has lost its ability to relax and does not completely fill with blood.

What is Peripheral Vascular Disease?

Peripheral vascular disease occurs when fats and cholesterol build up on the inside of your veins. Blood cannot flow freely through the vessels. This may cause cramping or pain in your legs.

How does the Cardiovascular System Work?

The heart is a four-chambered muscular organ that pumps blood to all parts of the body. A wall, called a septum, divides the heart into a right and left side. Each side is further divided in to an upper chamber (called the atrium) and a lower chamber (called the ventricle). These chambers are separated by valves that open and close to direct blood flow through the heart. Blood is pumped through the body delivering oxygen and nutrients to all parts of the body. The blood then returns to the right side of the heart. From there, the blood is pumped to the lungs where it is receives a fresh supply of oxygen. The left side of the heart receives this blood from the lungs and pumps it through arteries to your heart muscle and other parts of your body. This happens thousands of times a day.


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