Cardiac catheterization in children: (An Informative Guide for Parents)

By Maitri

Cardiac Catheterization in Children

(An Informative Guide for Parents)

This guide will provide you with a basic understanding of the heart catheterization (cath) procedure.

Why perform a catheterization?

Heart cath helps cardiologists gain information needed to fully evaluate a condition and recommend treatment for your child. It is a test that shows how the heart chambers, valves, and vessels are formed, and how they are functioning. A cath also provides cardiologists with information about specific areas of the heart and lungs. For patients who need surgery, a cath provides surgeons detailed information not available through other testing, such as the precise location of abnormalities and the specific structure of your child’s heart. A heart cath may also be used therapeutically, to treat a condition or to correct a problem.

What is cardiac catheterization?

Caths are performed in a specially equipped cath lab by a cardiologist with the help of a trained team of nurses and technicians. It is similar to a surgical procedure, although there are no incisions or stitches. To prevent infection, the staff wears sterile gowns, hats, and masks and the patient is covered with a sterile drape. The patient is sedated and a local anaesthetic is used to numb the groin area. This injection is the only discomfort your child should experience during the procedure. The anesthetic is similar to Novocaine–used by your dentist. A thin, flexible tube, known as a catheter, is then inserted into a vein and sometimes an artery, usually in the groin.Route of Cardiac Catheterization

Once the catheter is in the blood vessel, the cardiologist uses a fluoroscope (similar to an X-ray machine) to guide the catheter into the different areas of the heart. The movement of the catheter within the heart is not painful or uncomfortable. While the catheter is in the heart, several procedures are performed:

  • Blood presssures in different heart chambers and blood vessels are recorded.
  • Oxygen content of the blood in each heart chamber is evaluated.
  • Radioactive Dye is injected through the catheter.
  • Angiograms (x-ray movies of the dye’s movement) are filmed so that the details of the cardiac problem are recorded.

The cath lasts from 45 mins to one hour. Afterwards, the only outward sign of the procedure will be a pressure bandage applied to the cath insertion site. Before your child is discharged, the cardiologist will review the preliminary findings with you.

Your Child’s Catheterization

The week of the procedure:

Illness: If your child has a fever, cold, flu, severe diaper rash, exposure to any contagious disease during the week prior to the cath, check with your child’s cardiologist before coming to the hospital.

Medications: It is important to discuss with your cardiologist the timing of any medications your child is taking.

The day before the procedure:

Your child should eat a good meal, have a bedtime snack and get a good night’s sleep.

Your child may not eat or drink anything, including water, before the procedure.

Some basic blood investigations will be done by the nurse.

The morning of the catheterization:

All patients:
Do not give your child any food, drink , medications, prescription or over-the-counter, unless your cardiologist has previously given you approval.

Prior to the cath, your child will receive a physical evaluation. A chest X-ray, EKG, and echocardiogram may also be performed if they have not been already.

Before and During the Catheterization

Before the procedure, the cardiologist and nurse will discuss any remaining questions you may have, and ask you to sign a consent form. A consent form is standard in any surgical or invasive procedure. It explains to you the procedure, risks and takes your and doctor’s signatures.

Sedation or general anesthesia may be used in order to keep your child calm and properly positioned during the catheterization procedure. The type of sedative used will depend on the procedure being performed as well as other factors such as your child’s age, ability to lie still, and associated medical problems. Therefore, your child may be given a sedative before the test, and again in the cath lab, if needed.

Following the Catheterization

You may see your child immediately. Your child may be drowsy and/or sleep for a few hours.

During recovery, your child will be placed on a heart monitor until completely awake from the sedation. A nurse will frequently check vital signs (temperature, pulse, breathing, blood pressure), circulation, the heart monitor, and the pressure bandage placed over the cath insertion site.

Your child should rest until fully awake and the cardiologist gives approval to move around. A urinal and bed pan will be available for your child to use.

Once fully awake, your child may drink clear liquids and juices, provided by the nurse. If nausea or vomiting occurs, discontinue the liquids until the symptom subsides.

Before you leave that day, the cardiologist will discuss the preliminary results and recommended a treatment plan. This plan will be finalized after review by the cardiologists and surgeons at the cardio-surgical conference.

Taking Your Child Home

If everything is alright, your child will be discharged on the next day.It is important for your child to remain in bed or on the couch until the morning after the cath. Getting up briefly to go to the bathroom is permitted. The morning after the cath, remove the pressure bandage from the groin area and apply a band-aid, if this has not already been done.

Permit only mild activity on the day after the test.

Strenuous exercise or participation in sports is prohibited for three days after the test.

Resume normal activity/school three days after the test.

When to Call the Doctor ?

It is unlikely that any problems will arise after the cath, but if you observe any of the following, call your cardiologist.

  • Bleeding from the groin is abnormal and can be stopped by firm pressure on the site. Apply pressure for 10-15 minutes and notify your cardiologist immediately. If bleeding does not stop, take your child to the nearest hospital emergency room for treatment, and notify your cardiologist immediately.
  • A small amount of bruising and minimal discomfort in the groin is normal and will go away in a few days. Swelling, redness, pus at the insertion site, severe discomfort or significant pain upon walking should be reported to your child’s cardiologist.
  • A slight fever is common after cath, but should not last longer than 24 hours. Any fever of more than 100° F in the week following the cath should be reported to your child’s cardiologist.
  • Continued nausea should be reported to your child’s cardiologist.


Cardiac cath in children is a safe and standard procedure when done in pediatric cardiology centres.

Usual procedure time is 45mins to 1½ hours

Child is sedated during the procedure and feels no pain

Hospital stay is between 24-36 hours

It gives valuable information to the surgeon and cardiologist


Mrs Sindhu Vijayan

Patient Coordinator- pediatric cardiology services

Vikram Hospitals, Bangalore - Baby Heart Diseases Explained!