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Cardiac catheterization is a procedure in which a long, flexible tube (catheter) is put into a blood vessel. The doctor then guides the catheter into the heart to find and treat heart problems.

A child may need a cardiac catheterization to diagnose a heart problem (diagnostic cardiac catheterization). Or a child may need a catheterization to fix a problem (interventional cardiac catheterization). The problem is often one that he or she was born with (congenital heart defect). A catheterization may also be done for both reasons.

Diagnostic catheterization is used less often now. Other tests such as echocardiography, MRI, and CT scans are used instead. A diagnostic catheterization may be done to:

  • Get a more accurate image of the heart or a heart defect
  • Check the flow of blood throughout the heart
  • Find pressures in different parts of the heart and lungs
  • Check the heart valves to see if they are working properly
  • Measure oxygen levels in different areas of the heart, lungs, and blood vessels
  • Measure electrical activity in the heart
  • Check for problems after surgery
  • Take tissue samples to be looked at in a lab (biopsy)
  • Check the heart before or after heart transplant

Interventional catheterization has replaced surgery for some procedures. An interventional catheterization may be done to:

  • Close an abnormal opening between the two sides of the heart
  • Close abnormal blood vessels
  • Widen a narrow blood vessel or heart valve
  • Treat an abnormal heart rhythm (heart beating too fast or too slow)