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What Are the Most Common Complications of Cardiac Catheterization?

Catheterization could cause a blood clot to break off, blocking an artery and causing a heart attack.
Catheterization can remove blood clots found in the arteries and close holes in the heart in lieu of open heart surgery.
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  • Written By: Marlene Garcia
  • Edited By: Daniel Lindley
  • Last Modified Date: 12 October 2014
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Common complications of cardiac catheterization might include minor pain or bruising at the injection site. Other common complications of cardiac catheterization might occur if a patient is allergic to dye used in the procedure, which might also cause kidney damage, especially in diabetics. Serious complications of cardiac catheterization are considered rare, but the risk of a heart attack or stroke exists. Less common risks include damage to an artery or the heart.

Slight bruising or bleeding in the groin where the catheter is inserted represents a common occurrence. A more serious complication of cardiac catheterization might happen if a blood clot on the equipment moves to another area of the body. This might create a medical emergency if the clot travels to the brain or heart, causing a stroke or heart attack.

Cardiac specialists also watch for a condition called pseudoaneurysm during catheterization. Blood might leak outside the femoral artery wall or from the heart and form a pool. In an actual aneurysm, blood collects inside walls of the artery. If blood leaks outside the heart muscle, it is referred to as a cardiac tamponade, which might be addressed in three different ways.

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The surgeon might apply pressure to release the blood back into the body or inject medication to clot the blood. Both procedures use ultrasound to locate the pool of blood when these complications of cardiac catheterization appear. If neither of these techniques work, surgery might be necessary to address the problem. Cardiac tamponade prevents the ventricles from expanding normally and might cause stabbing chest pain and trouble breathing.

Cardiac catheterization involves threading a catheter into the femoral artery in the groin, which winds through the body until it reaches the heart. A dye injected into the body allows doctors to determine if any blockage or damage exists. Cardiac catheterization helps diagnose or treat several heart conditions.

An angioplasty involves a small balloon on the end of the catheter, which is inflated to clear any blockage in arteries. When plaque builds up inside artery walls, it reduces blood flow to the heart. A metal coil called a stent is often placed into the artery to prevent it from narrowing again.

The procedure also helps repair faulty heart valves that become narrow or leak. A balloon attached to the end of the catheter can widen the valve to increase its ability to operate. Catheterization can also remove blood clots found in the arteries and close holes in the heart in lieu of open heart surgery.

As a diagnostic tool, catheterization might identify an abnormal heart from a birth defect and determine the amount of pressure inside the heart. It also measures the oxygen level in the heart and reveals any blockages that might reduce oxygen. Some surgeons use this procedure to remove a small piece of tissue for a biopsy if cancer is suspected.

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