Cardiac catheterisation and coronary angioplasty.
Cardiac catheterisation is an invasive procedure during which specially designed catheters (long, fine hollow rubber tubes) are advanced to the heart through a tiny hole made to an artery (vascular access).
The traditional access site is the femoral artery located at the top of each leg at the level of the groin. More recent techniques and equipment have allowed the procedure to be performed through a much smaller artery in the wrist (radial artery) which is more patient friendly as it allows early mobilisation and less activity restrictions.
Generally the procedure is almost pain-free and is done under local anaesthesia at the access site. Mild sedation for patient comfort is also widely used.
Cardiac catheterisation can help retrieve vital information about the coronary arteries with the use of x-ray imaging and special x-ray contrast injected through the catheter (coronary angiography). In this way a set of pictures of all coronary arteries are taken from various angles and possible narrowing and / or blockages are identified.
Catheteriastion can also help gain information about the state of specific heart valves as well as take recordings of pressures inside different heart chambers.
Using the same technique, narrowed or blocked arteries can be treated with special equipment such as balloons to stretch the narrowing, and coronary stents which are tiny fine mesh-like metallic tubes which are implanted at the site of the narrowing and act as scaffolds to hold the artery open (coronary angioplasty). This procedure relieves the obstruction of a coronary artery and allows good blood flow to the heart muscle. It is used both to alleviate symptoms of angina as well as prevent heart attacks in specific situations.