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What is a Swan-Ganz Catheter?

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  • Written By: M. DePietro
  • Edited By: W. Everett
  • Last Modified Date: 06 November 2016
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A Swan-Ganz® catheter, also called a pulmonary catheter, is a device used to measure the blood flow and monitor heart function. The procedure of inserting the catheter is sometimes referred to as right heart catheterization. The procedure is most often done in a cardiac catheterization lab or an intensive care unit in a hospital. A written consent form will need to be signed before the procedure by the patient or person responsible for the patient’s medical decisions.

Patients can be awake while the Swan-Ganz® catheter is inserted, but a sedative is often given to help the patient relax. The Swan-Ganz® catheter is usually inserted in through a small incision made in the neck or the groin. The area of the insertion is cleaned, and an anesthetic is applied to reduce pain. Although the procedure is usually not painful, pressure may be felt where the catheter was inserted.

The Swan-Ganz® catheter, which is a small tube, is inserted into the incision and into a vein. It is than threaded up slowly to the right atrium, which is an upper chamber of the heart. The catheter is moved through the tricuspid and pulmonary valve into the pulmonary artery. The blood flow and heart function can than be monitored. After a Swan-Ganz® catheterization, the catheter can be left in place for several days to continually monitor heart function in people who are ill.

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Physicians who specialize in cardiology will usually perform the procedure. The catheterization procedure may be recommended to diagnose conditions such as restrictive cardiomyopathy, pulmonary hypertension, and congenital heart disease. A doctor may also want to monitor heart function in people who have heart failure and kidney disease.

Patients are carefully monitored during the procedure and watched for adverse reactions. During the procedure, the patient’s blood pressure and oxygen level will be monitored. The patient will also be hooked up to an electrocardiogram machine, in order to have his heart rhythm continually monitored during the procedure.

Risks from a Swan-Ganz® catheterization include infection and bruising at the incision site. Injury to the vein in which the catheter was inserted is also a possibility. Serious complications are rare but can occur and include heart arrhythmias and a pulmonary embolism, which is a blood clot, that travels to the lungs.

People who are not critically ill may have the catheter removed immediately after the test. After the procedure, a physician will go over the results with the patient. Abnormal values may indicate a problems with the heart valves, heart failure, or lung disease.

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