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When Your Child Needs an Interventional Cardiac Catheterization ProcedureBoy lying on table under surgical drapes. Two health care providers in surgical gowns, masks, and gloves are holding catheter and watching monitor.

Interventional cardiac catheterization can be used to treat certain heart problems. During the procedure, a special catheter (thin, flexible tube) 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 performed by a pediatric cardiologist (doctor who diagnoses and treats heart problems in children). He or she has special training in cardiac catheterization.

When Is an Interventional Cardiac Catheterization Procedure Used?

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.

Before the Procedure

  • 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.

Let the Doctor Know

Tell the doctor if your child:

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

  • Has any allergies.

  • Is taking any medications.

During the Procedure

The procedure takes place in a catheterization laboratory. 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 sedative (medication that makes your child relax or sleep). This is done by mouth or an intravenous (IV) line. He or she may also be given anesthesia (medication that makes your child sleep and not feel pain). 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 trachea (windpipe). Special equipment monitors your child’s heart rate, oxygen levels, and blood pressure.

  • A local anesthetic (medication given so your child won’t feel pain) 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 performed at this time.

  • The catheter is removed once the procedure is complete.

Risks and Possible Complications of Cardiac Catheterization

These complications can Include:

  • Reaction to sedative or anesthesia

  • Reaction to contrast dye

  • Arrhythmia (abnormal heart rhythm)

  • Infection

  • Bleeding

  • Injury to the heart or a blood vessel

After the Procedure

  • 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 medications 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.

Call the Doctor

After an interventional cardiac catheterization procedure, call the doctor 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

  • Fever:

    • In an infant under 3 months old, a rectal temperature of 100.4°F (38°C) or higher

    • In a child 3 to 36 months, a rectal temperature of 102°F (39°C) or higher

    • In a child of any age who has a temperature of 103°F (39.4°C) or higher

    • A fever that lasts more than 24-hours in a child under 2 years old, or for 3 days in a child 2 years or older

    • Your child has had a seizure caused by the fever

  • Chest pain

  • Shortness of breath

  • Irregular, rapid heartbeats (palpitations)

  • Passing out

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 medications. This may cause a brief sting. Your child won’t feel any discomfort once the medications take 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.

  • 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.


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