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Complications after cardiac catheterization

What is cardiac catheterization and when is it done?

Cardiac catheterization is a procedure that consists of inserting a long catheter in a vein or artery either in an arm, leg, neck, or in groin and from there the catheter is lead to the heart all the way through the blood vessels. The procedure can be used for two reasons, in the treatment of various heart conditions, such as angioplasty, for example, or in order to check the condition of cardiovascular system and test for a heart disease.

In the first case, there are three procedures that cardiac catheterization is a part of, and these are: angioplasty, which may also include stent placement (though not necessarily) and which helps in expending and widening the blocked artery; closure of holes in the heart which are congenital; and balloon valvuloplasty, when narrowed heart valves have to be open. In the second case, when heart and other parts of cardiovascular system have to be checked, this procedure is used in the following situations:

  • when the blockage or narrowing in blood vessels has to be located,
  • when the amount of oxygen and/or pressure in the heart has to be determined,
  • when congenital heart defects have to be diagnosed, or
  • when a tissue sample has to be taken from the heart for the purpose of biopsy.

Whichever the reason, the patient will need several hours to recover from the procedure and from the anesthesia, and he will spend them in the recovery room and a regular hospital room. The part of the body used for the procedure should not be moved, so that the bleeding would be avoided. Some patients may go home the same day, while others are required to stay for a few days, but it depends on their condition.

Complications of cardiac catheterization

Having in mind that this procedure involves heart and blood vessels, there certainly have to be some risks involved, and some complications are possible. However, none of the major complications is frequent. Bleeding, infection and bruising of the surgery site are possible complications of every procedure, and so of this one as well.

Complications which are typically possible during or after cardiac catheterization are stroke, heart attack, arrhythmias or irregular heart rhythms, allergic reactions. It is also possible that the artery or vein, through which the catheter was inserted, is damaged, or that the tissue of the artery or heart is torn during this procedure, but it is important to mention that blood clots can also occur after the procedure. Kidney damage is one of the possible complications as well. 

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