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What happens during a catheterization?

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Quick Answer

During a catheterization procedure, a medical provider inserts a sheath through a blood vessel and guides a catheter through the sheath, explains the American Heart Association. The provider uses special X-rays to guide the wire through the artery.

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Full Answer

The catheterization procedure is done in a special operating room that has imaging machines and X-rays, as Mayo Clinic reports. The patient puts on a hospital gown before undergoing sedation, as detailed by WebMD, and a nurse then inserts an intravenous line in the patient's hand that provides for the administration of fluids and medications during the procedure.

A nurse places electrodes on the patient's chest to monitor the patient's heartbeat during the catheterization procedure. The nurse shaves and cleans the skin where the catheter insertion takes place, explains the American Heart Association. Before insertion, the nurse uses a local anesthetic to numb the site.

Sometimes, the insertion site is in the patient's groin, which is known as the femoral approach. Alternatively, the site is in the wrist, which is the radial approach, as WebMD explains.

During the procedure, a doctor punctures a needle into a blood vessel, as the American Heart Association describes, before inserting a small tube known as a sheath into the vessel. The doctor then inserts a catheter, which is a long, thin tube, into the sheath before threading it through the artery to the heart.

The doctor may inject a contrast dye into the catheter. If so, the doctor uses it to help take pictures of the patient's arteries and heart chambers, as WebMD reports.

The doctor may also use the catheter to clear a narrow or blocked artery or to widen a narrow heart valve, according to the American Heart Association. In total, the catheterization procedure generally lasts about one hour.

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