Cardiac Procedures

The following procedures are often used in the evaluation and treatment of cardiovascular disease. Consult your physician or heart care professional for more specific information.

Cardiac procedures for abnormal heart rhythms:

  • Catheter ablation. This procedure uses radio waves or freezing to silence an abnormal area in the heart's electrical system, which is usually found during an electrophysiology study.

  • Permanent pacemaker. A permanent pacemaker is inserted into the patient's heart and upper chest to provide a reliable heartbeat when the heart's own rhythm is too slow or irregular.

  • Internal cardioverter defibrillator (ICD). A defibrillator wire is inserted into the patient's heart and connected to an implanted device in the chest to send out a small amount of electricity when needed to jolt the heart rhythm back to normal.

Cardiac procedures for heart disease:

  • Cardiac catheterization. With this procedure, a catheter or tube is placed into the heart through the leg or arm. Then, X-rays are taken after a contrast agent is injected into an artery to locate the narrowing, occlusions, and other abnormalities of specific arteries. 

  • Coronary angioplasty. With this procedure, a balloon is used to expand a narrowing in the blood vessel to increase blood flow. Although angioplasty is performed in other blood vessels elsewhere in the body, percutaneous coronary intervention (PCI) refers to angioplasty in the coronary arteries to permit more blood flow into the heart. PCI is also called percutaneous transluminal coronary angioplasty (PTCA). There are several types of PCI procedures, including:

    • Balloon angioplasty. A small balloon is inflated inside the blocked artery to re-establish blood flow.  This is often accompanied by stent placement.

    • Coronary artery stent. A tiny mesh coil is expanded inside the blocked artery to open the blocked area and is left in place to keep the artery open.

    • Atherectomy. The blocked area inside the artery is "shaved" away by a tiny device on the end of a catheter.

    • Laser angioplasty. A laser is used to help "vaporize" the blockage in the artery.

  • Coronary artery bypass. Most commonly referred to as simply "bypass surgery," or CABG (pronounced cabbage) this surgery is often performed in people who have angina (chest pain) and coronary artery disease (plaque buildup in the arteries). During the surgery, a bypass is created by grafting a piece of another vessel above and below the blocked area of a coronary artery, enabling blood to flow around the obstruction. Veins are usually taken from the leg, and arteries from the chest or arm may also be used to create a bypass graft.

  • Intra-aortic balloon pump (IABP).  An IABP is a type of therapeutic device to help your heart pump more blood. The device consists of a thin, flexible tube (a catheter) with a long balloon at its tip (intra-aortic balloon, or IAB). At the other end, the catheter attaches to a computer console. This console has a mechanism for inflating and deflating the balloon at the proper time during your cardiac (heart) cycle. An IABP allows blood to flow more easily into your coronary arteries to help give oxygen to the heart muscle. It also allows your heart to pump more blood with each contraction.

  • Ventricular assist device (VAD). A VAD is a mechanical device used to take over the pumping function for one or both of the heart's ventricles, or pumping chambers. A VAD may be necessary when heart failure progresses to the point that medications and other treatments are no longer effective. A VAD can be used as a bridge to transplant for a person who is waiting for a heart transplant.

  • Heart transplant. A surgical procedure for selected patients whose hearts are so severely damaged that medications, procedures, and surgical repair cannot help. A donated heart is transplanted into the patient to replace the damaged heart.

Cardiac procedures for valve disease:

  • Valvuloplasty. A procedure in which a catheter with a large balloon is used to open a heart valve that has become narrowed. The catheter is guided through the aorta to the aortic  valve, and once in place within the leaflets, the balloon is inflated until the leaflets are loosened. The balloon is then deflated and withdrawn from the body. This procedure may also be done on the mitral valve.

  • Valve repair. A surgical procedure in which a damaged valve is repaired by loosening stiff valve leaflets or tightening loose valve leaflets.

  • Valve replacement. In this surgical procedure, a mechanical or tissue valve is transplanted into the heart to replace the damaged valve.