Right Heart Catheterization: About This Test

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What is it?

Man in cath lab

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 groin or neck. 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 can you prepare for the test?

  • Tell your doctors all the medicines and natural health products you take. Some of these can increase the risk of bleeding or interact with anesthesia.
  • If you take aspirin or some other blood thinner, be sure to talk to your doctor. He or she will tell you if you should stop taking it before your test. Make sure that you understand exactly what your doctor wants you to do.
  • Your doctor will tell you which medicines to take or stop before the test. You may need to stop taking certain medicines a week or more before the test. So talk to your doctor as soon as you can.

What happens during the test?

  • 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 set) 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.
  • The test usually takes about 1 to 1½ hours.

What happens after the test?

  • 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.
  • The catheter site and your heart rate, blood pressure, and temperature will be checked several times over several hours.
  • If the catheter was placed in your neck, you may sit up in your bed. If the catheter was placed in your groin, you may lie in bed for a few hours.
  • You may be able to go home later the same day, or you may 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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