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Right Heart Catheterization: About This Test

Man in cath lab

What is it?

Right heart catheterization is a test to check the right side of your heart. The right side of the heart receives blood from the body and pumps it to the lungs. The blood picks up oxygen in the lungs.

A doctor will insert a thin, flexible tube (catheter) into a blood vessel in your neck, groin, or arm. During the test, the doctor moves the catheter through the blood vessel into your heart.

Why is this test done?

The test checks the blood pressure and oxygen levels in your lungs and heart. It also checks how well your heart is pumping. This test is different from left heart catheterization. That test checks for blockages in the coronary arteries.

How do you prepare for the procedure?

Procedures can be stressful. This information will help you understand what you can expect. And it will help you safely prepare for your procedure.

Preparing for the procedure

  • Understand exactly what procedure is planned, along with the risks, benefits, and other options.
  • Tell your doctor ALL the medicines and natural health products you take. Some may increase the risk of problems during your procedure. Your doctor will tell you if you should stop taking any of them before the procedure and how soon to do it.
  • If you take aspirin or some other blood thinner, ask your doctor if you should stop taking it before your procedure. Make sure that you understand exactly what your doctor wants you to do. These medicines increase the risk of bleeding.
  • Make sure your doctor and the hospital have a copy of your advance care plan. If you don't have one, you may want to prepare one. It lets others know your health care wishes. It's a good thing to have before any type of surgery or procedure.
  • Be sure you have someone to take you home. Anesthesia and pain medicine will make it unsafe for you to drive or get home on your own.

How is the test done?

  • The test is done in a hospital, often in a cardiac catheterization laboratory ("cath lab"). You lie on a table under a large X-ray machine.
  • You will get medicine through an IV in one of your veins to help you relax.
  • You will be awake during the procedure, but you may not be able to remember much about it. The doctor will inject some medicine to numb the skin where the catheter will be put in. You will feel a small needle stick, like having a blood test. You may feel some pressure when the doctor puts in the catheter.
  • The doctor may look at X-ray pictures on a monitor (like a TV screen) to move the catheter to your heart and lungs.
  • The catheter will be removed. A nurse may press on a bandage on the opening to prevent bleeding.
  • After the test, you will stay in a room for at least a few hours to make sure the catheter site starts to heal. You may have a bandage or a compression device on the catheter site to prevent bleeding.
  • If the catheter was placed in your neck or arm, you may sit up in your bed. If the catheter was placed in your groin, you may lie in bed for a few hours.

How long does the test take?

The procedure will probably take about 1 to 2 hours, but the preparation and recovery time add several hours. Plan on being at the hospital most of the day.

What happens after the test?

You may be able to go home later the same day. Or you might need to stay in the hospital overnight.

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse call line if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to keep a list of the medicines you take. Ask your doctor when you can expect to have your test results.

Where can you learn more?

Go to https://www.healthwise.net/patientEd

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