What is a Catheterization Lab?

Donn Saylor

A catheterization lab is a special room in a medical setting equipped with technology to aid in the catheterization process. Often referred to as a cath lab, a catheterization laboratory is commonly used for cardiac catheterization, in which a tube is placed in the heart to access coronary circulation. Most catheterization labs have two major types of equipment: an X-ray machine and an image magnifier.

Cath lab techs help doctors with cardiac diagnostic testing.
Cath lab techs help doctors with cardiac diagnostic testing.

When a patient visits a cardiac catheterization lab, he or she is placed on a hospital bed and prepped for the procedure, which is regarded as a minimally invasive process. The patient is given a local anesthetic and hooked up to the equipment that will be used, usually an X-ray and an image intensifying device. The catheter is then inserted into the body, usually through the femoral artery in the thigh or in the arm, and maneuvered through the body to the heart; dye is injected to illuminate the flow of blood. Blood pressure is monitored throughout the process. The X-ray machine shows real-time images of the blood within the coronary arteries while the imaging tools intensify and enlarge the findings from the X-ray.

An X-ray machine is an important piece of equipment at a catheterization lab.
An X-ray machine is an important piece of equipment at a catheterization lab.

In an older catheterization lab, cine film — the type of film that was once utilized for filming home movies — was traditionally employed. With the advancement of technology, most labs have abandoned this approach and have opted for digital means of recording the catheterization process. Since the year 2000, a digital catheterization lab has become the standard type of hospital cardiac cath lab.

A technician in the catheterization lab might monitor blood pressure.
A technician in the catheterization lab might monitor blood pressure.

Those medical facilities with access to the most up-to-date technologies often possess catheterization labs called biplane laboratories. The term biplane refers to the fact that the lab has two X-ray sources at work on a single patient. During the procedure in a biplane catheterization lab, the technicians can obtain two simultaneous views of the process. This makes the entire procedure much shorter and is especially beneficial to those patients who may be sensitive to the dye that is used. Catheterization dye can cause kidney issues in certain individuals, and the shortened process helps get the dye out of the body much quicker.

In most medical settings, there is a team of professionals who work in the catheterization lab. A doctor, a nurse, a cath lab tech, an anesthesiologist, and a radiography specialist may all be present during a catheterization. Though the procedure is not considered surgery, it is a serious form of medical testing that is handled with the utmost care and professionalism.

An anesthesiologist typically is present for a catheterization procedure.
An anesthesiologist typically is present for a catheterization procedure.

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