When Your Child Needs an Interventional Cardiac Catheterization Procedure

What is an interventional cardiac catheterization?

Two healthcare providers performing cardiac catheterization on child.Interventional cardiac catheterization can be used to treat certain heart problems. During the procedure, a thin, flexible tube (catheter) is inserted through the skin into a blood vessel. It’s then guided into the heart with the help of live X-rays. An interventional cardiac catheterization procedure is done by a pediatric cardiologist. This is a doctor who diagnoses and treats heart problems in children. He or she has special training in cardiac catheterization.

Why might my child need an interventional cardiac catheterization procedure?

Some catheterization procedures are preferred over heart surgery to treat certain heart defects. This is because they’re less invasive, may have fewer risks and complications, and have a shorter recovery period. An interventional cardiac catheterization procedure can be used to:

  • Open heart valves or blood vessels. A balloon at the end of a catheter is inflated and deflated one or more times to open a valve or widen a blood vessel. A catheter may also be used to place a wire mesh tube (stent) in a blood vessel. This is a tiny device used to widen and keep open a blood vessel.

  • Close holes or blood vessels. A catheter is used to guide a device such as a coil or plug into the heart. This is usually done to close a hole in the heart or a blood vessel in or around the heart.

  • Measure blood pressure in specific parts of the heart

  • Treat abnormal heart rhythms with electricity, heat, cold, or sound waves

  • Take a sample of heart tissue (biopsy)

How do we get ready for an interventional cardiac catheterization?

  • Don’t give your child anything to eat or drink for 4 to 6 hours before the procedure.

  • Follow all other instructions given by the doctor.

How to help your child prepare

You can help your child by preparing him or her in advance. How you do this depends on your child’s needs.

  • Explain what will happen during the procedure in brief and simple terms. Younger children have shorter attention spans, so do this shortly before the procedure. Older children can be given more time to understand the procedure in advance.

  • Make sure your child understands which body part(s) will be involved in the procedure.

  • As best you can, describe how the procedure will feel. An IV may be inserted into the arm to give medicine. This may cause a brief sting. Your child won’t feel any discomfort once the medicine takes effect.

  • Allow your child to ask questions and answer these questions truthfully. Your child may feel nervous or afraid. He or she may even cry. Let your child know that you’ll be nearby during the procedure.

  • Use your hospital's services. Many hospitals have a child life specialist. This person is specially trained to help children understand what to expect during their time in the hospital. Books, videos, dolls, and toys may be used to help explain the procedure to your child. Be sure to ask your child’s doctor about the resources available at your hospital.

What to tell your child's healthcare provider

Tell your healthcare provider if your child:

  • Recently had a cough, fever, runny nose, groin infection, or diaper rash

  • Has any allergies, such as contrast dye

  • Is taking any medicine

What happens during an interventional cardiac catheterization?

The procedure takes place in a catheterization lab. It usually lasts about 2 to 4 hours. You’ll stay in the waiting room during the procedure:

  • Your child lies on an X-ray table.

  • Your child is given a pain reliever and a medicine that makes your child relax or sleep (sedative). This is done by mouth or an intravenous (IV) line. He or she may also be given medicine that makes your child sleep and not feel pain (anesthesia). This is done by facemask or IV. A trained nurse or doctor (anesthesiologist) is in charge of this process.

  • A breathing tube may be placed in your child’s windpipe (trachea). Special equipment monitors your child’s heart rate, oxygen levels, and blood pressure.

  • A local medicine given so your child won’t feel pain (anesthetic) is injected at the catheter insertion site. This can be in the groin, neck, or shoulder.

  • Then a catheter is passed through a blood vessel and is guided into the heart. The movement of the catheter can be seen with live X-rays.

  • Contrast dye is injected through the catheter. The dye tracks the movement of blood through the heart and allows the structures and blood vessels in the heart to be seen more clearly. Pictures are taken of the heart and blood vessels using X-rays.

  • Blood samples are drawn from the chambers and blood vessels in the heart. Oxygen levels and blood pressure are measured.

  • Specific interventions to open or close a valve, hole, or blood vessel in the heart are done at this time.

  • The catheter is removed once the procedure is complete.

What are the risks and complications of cardiac catheterization?

Complications can include:

  • Reaction to sedative or anesthesia

  • Reaction to contrast dye

  • Abnormal heart rhythm

  • Infection

  • Bleeding

  • Injury to the heart or a blood vessel

What happens after the cardiac catheterization?

  • Your child is taken to a recovery room. You can stay with your child during this time.

  • It may take 1 to 2 hours for the medicines to wear off.

  • Pressure and a dressing may be applied to the catheter insertion site to limit bleeding. The doctor or nurse will tell you how long your child needs to lie down and keep the insertion site still.

  • Your child may be given only clear liquids to drink for a few hours. This to prevent reaction to any anesthesia if it was given.

  • Any contrast dye your child is given should pass through the body in about 24 hours.

  • An overnight hospital stay is often required. You’ll be given instructions for your child’s home care before he or she leaves the hospital.

When should I call my child's healthcare provider?

After an interventional cardiac catheterization procedure, call your healthcare provider right away if your child has any of the following:

  • Pain, swelling, redness, bleeding, or drainage at the catheter insertion site

  • Severe pain, coldness, or a bluish color in the area that held the catheter

  • Chest pain

  • Shortness of breath

  • Irregular, rapid heartbeats (palpitations)

  • Passing out

Unless advised otherwise by your child’s healthcare provider, call the provider right away if:

  • Your child is of any age and has repeated fevers above 104°F (40°C).

  • Your child is younger than 2 years of age and a fever of 100.4°F (38°C) continues for more than 1 day.

  • Your child is 2 years old or older and a fever of 100.4°F (38°C) continues for more than 3 days.

  • Your child has a fever causes by a seizure.