What Is Cardiac Catheterization and Stents/Coronary Artery Bypass?

Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last reviewed: March 2022 | Last updated: April 2022

Cardiac catheterization is both a diagnostic and procedural technique used to help cardiologists identify how well the heart is working and to look for certain kinds of disease or damage. The diagnostic part of the procedure focuses on examining the coronary arteries (the arteries that supply blood and oxygen to the heart muscle), valves, and pressures in the heart. The purpose is to find out what may be causing pain or other symptoms of heart failure (HF). If there are blockages in the arteries or damage to the valves, then your provider will discuss possible treatments with you.

Cardiac catheterization

Cardiac catheterization as a diagnostic tool is a procedure that can be used to look for blockages in the coronary arteries and measure the pressure and blood flow in the heart.1,3 It can evaluate the contracting ability of the heart, look for damage or defects in the heart valves, and even take blood samples which can measure the oxygen level in the hearts’ chambers.1,3

When looking at the coronary arteries, valves and the contracting ability of the heart the procedure is called a Left Heart Catheterization. This procedure is done in a medical facility, often called a cardiac cath lab, under sedation, which means you will be awake during the procedure, but relaxed with some medication.1,3 It is performed by inserting a long thin catheter into an artery in the groin or arm which is threaded through the blood vessels up into the heart.3 A contrast dye is injected into the catheter and special x-rays are taken, creating a clear image of blood flow through the arteries. The use of the contrast dye is called coronary angiography, which allows the doctor to better see narrowed or blocked arteries.1

When evaluating the pressures and cardiac output of the heart and/or taken blood samples to measure oxygen, a long thin catheter is inserted into a vein in the groin, arm or neck. It is passed through to the right side of the heart into a pulmonary artery. The catheter has special sensors on it to measure pressures in the different chambers of the heart and in the pulmonary artery. This is called a right heart catheterization. This procedure is also typically performed in a cardiac cath lab with mild sedation so you are awake but comfortable. A right heart catheterization is an important tool for people with heart failure to help your healthcare team ensure you are being treated with the best medications.

Coronary angioplasty

Coronary angioplasty has several other medical names including Percutaneous Coronary Interventions [PCI], Balloon Angioplasty and Coronary Artery Balloon Dilation.1 It is a technique used to treat blockages in coronary arteries caused by a buildup of plaque (atherosclerosis) or clot.2,4 Using a left heart catheterization as the approach to reach the heart, a deflated balloon is attached to the tip of the catheter which is threaded up to the coronary arteries. When it reaches the area where the blood flow is blocked, the balloon is inflated. This pushes aside the plaque-fatty deposits or the clot that is causing the blockage and opens up the artery.

Angioplasty helps increase blood flow which should reduce pain and improve your ability to perform physical activity.1-2 If a blockage is causing damage to your heart and in turn your heart failure, then fixing the blockage can improve your heart function and fix your heart failure.

Stent implantation

A stent is a wire mesh tube that is placed into a blocked coronary artery to widen or open it. It is permanently positioned in the artery so as to decrease the likelihood of another blockage developing in the same area.1-2

A left heart catheterization/angioplasty is the technique used to access the blocked artery. Along with a balloon, a compressed stent is attached to the end of a catheter and inserted through an artery in your groin or arm until it reaches the blockage. The stent is then expanded by inflating the balloon to hold open the narrowed artery.1,2,4 A person can have multiple stents in the same artery and in separate arteries depending on the blockages in the blood flow to the heart. A stent helps to relieve chest pain and improve blood flow to the heart.1-2 If a blockage is causing damage to your heart and in turn, your heart failure, then fixing the blockage can improve your heart function and fix your heart failure.

There are two types of stents. Drug-eluting stents are coated with medicine that prevents the artery from becoming blocked again. Stents that are not coated with drugs are called bare metal stents. When you receive a stent, you will be placed on a medication regimen called antiplatelet therapy, to help prevent the stent from getting clogged. This will include aspirin plus another antiplatelet medication. The length of time that you will need to take this medication is based on which kind of stent was used. It is very important to take these medications as prescribed to prevent a blood clot which could result in a heart attack.2,4

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