Left heart catheterization is the passage of a thin flexible tube (catheter) into the left side of the heart to diagnose or treat certain heart problems.
Catheterization - left heart
How the test is performed
You may be given a mild sedative before the procedure starts. The health care provider will place an IV into your arm so that you can receive medication during the procedure.
You will lie on a padded table. Your doctor will make a small surgical cut on your body, usually near the groin. Then your doctor will insert a flexible tube (catheter) through the cut into an artery. Sometimes the catheter will be placed in your arm or wrist. You will be awake during the procedure.
The doctor will use live x-ray pictures to carefully guide the catheter up into your heart and arteries. Dye will be injected into your body to highlight blood flow through the arteries. This helps the doctors see any blockages in the blood vessels that lead to your heart.
The catheter is carefully threaded into the left side of your heart. When the catheter is in place, a contrast material ("dye") is injected through the tube. This helps the doctor get a clearer view of the structures in the heart.
The procedure may last from less than 1 hour to several hours.
How to prepare for the test
You should not eat or drink for 8 hours before the test. (Your doctor or nurse may give you different directions.)
The procedure will take place in the hospital. You may be admitted the night before the test, but it is common to come to the hospital the morning of the procedure.
Your health care provider will explain the procedure and its risks. You must sign a consent form.
How the test will feel
You will be given sedation to help you relax before the procedure, but you will be awake and able to follow instructions during the test.
You will be given local numbing medicine (anesthesia) before the catheter is inserted. You will feel some pressure as the catheter is inserted, but you should not feel any pain. You may have some discomfort from lying still for a long period of time.
David C. Dugdale, III, MD, Professor of Medicine, Division of General Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine; and Michael A. Chen, MD, PhD, Assistant Professor of Medicine, Division of Cardiology, Harborview Medical Center, University of Washington Medical School, Seattle, Washington. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.