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The leading cause of death in the United States right now can be attributed to heart disease.  With 1 in every 4 deaths occurring because of the affliction, almost 600,000 people each year are losing their lives.  This mortality rate is far too high, even with all of the information and help that is out there.  One procedure that aims to reduce those astronomically high figures is cardiac catheterization.

Cardiac catheterization is used to help people live a longer, healthier life through minimally invasive treatment for heart disease.  After diagnostic technology and non-invasive screening detect a problem, cardiac catheterization is able to help solve it while reducing the length and struggle of the recovery process.

What is Cardiac Catheterization?

Cardiac catheterization is used during the diagnosis and treatment of cardiovascular disorders, also known as heart disease. It is a minimally invasive medical procedure during which the blood flow of inside of the coronary arteries and chambers of the heart is examined while the blood pressure inside of the heart is simultaneously screened.

There are a number of outcomes that cardiac catheterization aim to achieve, such as:

  • Assessment of overall cardiac condition
  • Assessment of the heart muscle’s functionality
  • Diagnosis and examine diseases in the heart valve, coronary artery, and aorta
  • Diagnose and evaluate any congenital heart defects in children
  • Take a biopsy sample of heart tissue
  • Measure the oxygen levels and blood pressure in the heart
  • Ascertain whether or not blood vessel narrowing or blockage has occurred
  • Determine if additional surgery or treatment is required
  • Aid in heart disease treatments such as repairing holes in the heart, getting rid of blood clots, fixing narrowed or leaking heart valves, performing an angioplasty, inserting stents and treating heart arrhythmia

Since cardiac catheterization is minimally invasive, it is a preferred procedure given its many benefits and detection and/or treatment outcomes. In addition to this, the minimally invasive nature of the procedure reduces the length and strenuousness of the healing and recovery process, unlike with other heart disease procedures (i.e. open heart surgery).

How is a Cardiac Catheterization Performed?

During the procedure, a long, narrow tube called a catheter is threaded into a blood vessel through the skin.  This catheter is flexible and is guided through the vessel into the coronary artery and eventually, the heart.  It is guided along the way by the steady and trained hand of a doctor as well as the assistance of an X-ray imaging machine which allows the medical team to see where they are going.

As the catheter reaches its final destination in the heart, the medical team can then perform a number of diagnostic cardiac tests and provide any planned treatment as necessary.  This allows the medical team a chance to get inside of the patient and perform tests and treatments that at one time in the past would have required cutting the patient open.  Any time a body cavity is opened, the risk of disease and error raises significantly, making cardiac catheterization not only faster and more beneficial but also safer as well.

One of the most promising procedural diagnostic tests performed during cardiac catheterization is called contrast.  During this test, a special dye is inserted into the catheter.  This dye is called contrast as it provides an actual contrasting color to the human insides’ natural coloring.  The dye flows into the blood vessels in the heart which allows medical staff to take a closer examination at the coronary arteries.

By providing this contrast, doctors are able to instantly determine whether there are any blockages or narrowings of the arteries and if any are detected, can even help the doctors pinpoint a direct point of need.  This is helpful when preparing a treatment plan as it allows doctors to create the most effective plan of action while minimizing risks by optimizing targets.

Why Cardiac Catheterization is the Preferred Diagnostic and Treatment Method for Heart Disease

With all of these benefits and options available to doctors, perhaps the biggest selling point on cardiac catheterization is that there is only one small incision or cut made into the skin.  The catheter is very thin and snakes right in through the blood vessels, meaning there is no need to open up the chest cavity as in the past.

In fact, most cardiac catheterization takes place through an incision in the groin, but can also go through a vein in the neck or arm.  It is not typical for patients to experience any pain during the procedure and the risk for complications or side effects is extremely low.  It is also made less risky by the fact that the patient is fully awake during the procedure (as any time anesthesia is used, extra risks are incurred). While the procedure takes only about a half an hour, prep time and recovery could take between four and eight hours.

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