A cardiac catheterization is an invasive diagnostic test that is used to detect blockages in the arteries of the heart. The test is used to diagnose heart disease and heart attack. A long, thin tube called a catheter is inserted into an artery in your groin or forearm and a thinner tube known as a guidewire is used to guide the catheter into the various arteries of the heart. Your physician will track the course of the catheter through the blood vessels by viewing moving X-ray pictures displayed on a screen that is similar to a TV monitor. More than 1 million catheterizations are performed annually in US hospitals, and about 40% of these are in women.1
What is an angiogram?
Strictly speaking, cardiac catheterization refers only to the catheter insertion, but it is very unlikely that you will undergo cardiac catheterization without having an angiogram. The coronary angiogram is the X-ray picture of the arteries of the heart. A special dye, known as a contrast dye, is injected into the arteries that supply blood to the heart via the catheter so that the X-rays can be taken. The angiogram can be used to pinpoint the location and severity of coronary artery disease, including blocked arteries and abnormalities in the heart wall. Because it is unlikely that you will undergo cardiac catheterization without having an angiogram, the two terms are used interchangeably.
Who might have cardiac catheterization?
Cardiac catheterization is an invasive diagnostic test that is reserved for women who have a high likelihood of having heart disease or who may be having a heart attack. Up to 40% of women sent for catheterization do not show signs of blockages in their arteries.2, 3 For this reason, you will usually be sent for cardiac catheterization only after having a positive (abnormal) noninvasive test such as a nuclear stress test or echocardiogram. In an emergency situation, including a suspected heart attack, you may be sent immediately for catheterization. Cardiac catheterization helps locate the blood clot that is causing a heart attack.