Right Heart Catheterization: Before Your Procedure

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Examples of catheter sites with cross section of heart showing catheter and inflated balloon

What is right heart catheterization?

The right side of the heart receives blood from the body and pumps it to the lungs. The blood picks up oxygen in the lungs. A right heart catheterization (also called pulmonary artery catheterization) tests the blood pressure and oxygen levels in your lungs and heart. It also checks to see how well your heart is pumping.

Your doctor will put a thin, flexible tube (catheter) into a blood vessel in your neck, groin, or arm. During the test, the doctor will move the catheter through the blood vessel into your heart. If your doctor uses an X-ray to see where to move the catheter, you will also get dye injected into your blood vessel and heart. When the catheter is in your heart, the doctor will inflate a small balloon on the tip of the catheter. This helps guide the catheter into the artery that carries blood to your lungs (pulmonary artery).

The test usually takes about 1 to 1½ hours. You may have swelling, bruising, or a small lump around the site where the catheter went into your body. You can do light activities around the house. But do not do anything strenuous until your doctor says it is okay. This lets the catheter site heal.

How do you prepare for the procedure?

Procedures can be stressful. This information will help you understand what you can expect. And it will help you safely prepare for your procedure.

Preparing for the procedure

  • Be sure you have someone to take you home. Anesthesia and pain medicine will make it unsafe for you to drive or get home on your own.
  • Understand exactly what procedure is planned, along with the risks, benefits, and other options.
  • Tell your doctor ALL the medicines, vitamins, supplements, and herbal remedies you take. Some may increase the risk of problems during your procedure. Your doctor will tell you if you should stop taking any of them before the procedure and how soon to do it.
  • If you take a medicine that prevents blood clots, your doctor may tell you to stop taking it before your procedure. Or your doctor may tell you to keep taking it. (These medicines include aspirin and other blood thinners.) Make sure that you understand exactly what your doctor wants you to do.
  • Make sure your doctor and the hospital have a copy of your advance directive. If you don't have one, you may want to prepare one. It lets others know your health care wishes. It's a good thing to have before any type of surgery or procedure.

What happens on the day of the procedure?

  • Follow the instructions exactly about when to stop eating and drinking. If you don't, your procedure may be canceled. If your doctor told you to take your medicines on the day of the procedure, take them with only a sip of water.
  • Follow your doctor's instructions about when to bathe or shower before your procedure. Do not apply lotions, perfumes, deodorants, or nail polish.
  • Do not shave the surgical site yourself.
  • Take off all jewelry and piercings. And take out contact lenses, if you wear them.

At the hospital or surgery center

  • Bring a picture ID.
  • You will be kept comfortable and safe by your anesthesia provider. You may get medicine that relaxes you or puts you in a light sleep. The area being worked on will be numb.
  • The procedure will probably take about 1 to 2 hours.
  • After the procedure, pressure may be applied for a short time to the area where the catheter was put into your blood vessel. This will help prevent bleeding. A small device may also be used to close the blood vessel. You may have a bandage or compression device on the catheter site.
  • If the catheter was placed in your neck or arm, you may be able to sit up in your bed right away.
  • If the catheter was put in your groin, you will need to lie still and keep your leg straight for up to a few hours. The nurse may put a weighted bag on your leg to help you keep it still.
  • You may be able to go home later the same day. Or you may need to stay in the hospital overnight.

When should you call your doctor?

  • You have questions or concerns.
  • You don't understand how to prepare for your procedure.
  • You become ill before the procedure (such as fever, flu, or a cold).
  • You need to reschedule or have changed your mind about having the procedure.

Where can you learn more?

Go to https://www.healthwise.net/patientEd

Enter R075 in the search box to learn more about "Right Heart Catheterization: Before Your Procedure".

The Health Encyclopedia contains general health information. Not all treatments or services described are covered benefits for Kaiser Permanente members or offered as services by Kaiser Permanente. For a list of covered benefits, please refer to your Evidence of Coverage or Summary Plan Description. For recommended treatments, please consult with your health care provider.