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When Your Child Needs an Interventional Cardiac Catheterization Procedure

What is an interventional cardiac catheterization?

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 open 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 likely won’t feel any discomfort once the medicine takes effect.

  • Let your child 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 face mask 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 possible 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

  • Fever (see Fever and children, below)

Fever and children

Always use a digital thermometer to check your child’s temperature. Never use a mercury thermometer.

For infants and toddlers, be sure to use a rectal thermometer correctly. A rectal thermometer may accidentally poke a hole in (perforate) the rectum. It may also pass on germs from the stool. Always follow the product maker’s directions for proper use. If you don’t feel comfortable taking a rectal temperature, use another method. When you talk to your child’s healthcare provider, tell him or her which method you used to take your child’s temperature.

Here are guidelines for fever temperature. Ear temperatures aren’t accurate before 6 months of age. Don’t take an oral temperature until your child is at least 4 years old.

Baby under 3 months old:

  • Ask your child’s healthcare provider how you should take the temperature.

  • Rectal or forehead (temporal artery) temperature of 100.4°F (38°C) or higher, or as directed by the provider

  • Armpit temperature of 99°F (37.2°C) or higher, or as directed by the provider

Child age 3 to 36 months:

  • Rectal, forehead (temporal artery), or ear temperature of 102°F (38.9°C) or higher, or as directed by the provider

  • Armpit temperature of 101°F (38.3°C) or higher, or as directed by the provider

Child of any age:

  • Repeated temperature of 104°F (40°C) or higher, or as directed by the provider

  • Fever that lasts more than 24 hours in a child under 2 years old. Or a fever that lasts for 3 days in a child 2 years or older.

Online Medical Reviewer: Glenn Gandelman MD MPH
Online Medical Reviewer: Lu Cunningham RN BSN
Online Medical Reviewer: Quinn Goeringer PA-C
Date Last Reviewed: 12/1/2019
© 2000-2020 The StayWell Company, LLC. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.