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What is a Pulmonary Artery Catheter?

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  • Written By: Erin J. Hill
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 09 December 2016
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A pulmonary artery catheter is a device which is inserted into the pulmonary artery in order to detect and monitor heart function, and is used to diagnose a wide range of illnesses. Most times it is inserted through a large vein or artery and is then threaded into the pulmonary artery. A balloon at one end expands under the pressure of flowing blood and gives a reading of pressure and performance.

There is a long list of potential health problems which may warrant the use of a pulmonary artery catheter. These can include angina, acute myocardial infarction, pulmonary edema, and a wide range of other conditions. The catheter has been used for several decades, but there are still no official guidelines for when its use is appropriate. This means that it is generally at the discretion of each physician to determine when it should and should not be used.

Newer procedures have been developed which are considered safer than using a pulmonary artery catheter for some conditions. The procedure is risky since the catheter is inserted directly into the arteries connected to the heart and lungs. Patients also frequently experience some level of pain or discomfort during the insertion. Complications can include irregular heart rate, infection, and blood clots.

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The pulmonary artery catheter is usually only left in place until a patient is stabilized and further treatment can begin. It helps to give doctors an indication of where problems lie so that treatment options become clearer. If the catheter is needed for more than a few days, a new one will likely be inserted to prevent the risk of infection. Most often, this device is used on patients who are in the intensive care unit and have suffered a very recent injury or illness which requires the heart or lungs to be stabilized quickly.

Long-term illnesses that are not immediately life-threatening may not require the use of a pulmonary artery catheter. Patients with longstanding illnesses may be able to take advantage of less invasive measures to determine the best treatment options, or they may be given various medications to figure out which will work best. Each patient is different and will require individualized treatment.

Patients and their families should be given information regarding the risks and benefits of using a pulmonary artery catheter. Risks are rare, but they can cause serious complications for patients who are already very ill. The pros and cons should be weighed carefully when comparing treatment options.

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