Cardiac Catheterization for Children

Thanks to technological advances, children with some serious heart defects can now be treated with a minimally invasive approach, called cardiac catheterization, instead of surgery. For some children with congenital heart defects, a combination of surgery and catheterization is needed.

In our state-of-the-art hybrid catheterization lab at Hassenfeld Children’s Hospital—34th Street, also known as our hybrid operating room, doctors have access to the technology required for cardiac catheterizations, as well as to advanced surgical equipment. This allows our teams that specialize in cardiac catheterization and cardiac surgery to work side by side in the same operating room to perform one or both procedures, without ever moving the patient.

Our unique setup provides for shortened procedure times, less risk for your child, and improved outcomes for most children with complex heart defects. Learn more about the types of cardiac catheterization.

Preparing for Cardiac Catheterization

At Hassenfeld Children’s Hospital, we understand that staying in the hospital may be overwhelming, especially to young children, and we make every effort to provide a warm, caring environment for children and their families. Here is what you and your child can expect during the procedure.

During the Cardiac Catheterization Procedure

Your child is given a sedative to relax prior to the procedure. Intravenous (IV) sedation or general anesthesia is used, and your child may be given a breathing tube.

When the procedure begins, your child’s cardiologist inserts a catheter into a vein or artery, usually in the leg near the groin. A fluoroscope is then used to guide the catheter into the heart. This imaging technique gives the doctor real-time images of your child’s blood vessels and heart.

Your child’s doctor evaluates the heart structures and the pattern of blood flow inside the heart by measuring the oxygen content and blood pressures in different parts of the heart. Liquid dye is injected into the heart and X-ray films are used to produce a video of how the blood flows inside the heart.

The procedure can last between one and several hours. Throughout this process, your child’s wellbeing is supervised by a professional staff that has been specifically trained to support the physicians who are performing this procedure.

After the Cardiac Catheterization Procedure

After the procedure is complete, the catheter is removed from the heart and the blood vessels. A pressure dressing is placed on the site where the catheter was inserted to prevent bleeding. If the catheter was inserted into the leg, your child needs to keep his or her leg straight for a few hours to lessen the chances of bleeding at the site of the catheterization.

Your child is then monitored in the hospital by nursing staff for several hours. The length of time it takes for your child to wake up after the procedure depends on the type of medicine used. Our nurses monitor the pulses and skin temperature in the leg or arm where the catheter was inserted.

Your child can go home when we determine that he or she does not need additional treatment or monitoring. We’ll give you instructions on how to care for the catheterization site and bathe, as well as any necessary activity restrictions or medications your child may need to take at home.

Leaving the Hospital

Children usually recover quickly from cardiac catheterization. Your child’s cardiologist or nurse will give you specific discharge instructions before you leave the hospital.

Infants and young children can usually return to their normal activities the day after the procedure. Older children and adolescents are encouraged to rest the day after the procedure, but are typically able to walk and participate in most routine activities the following day. Vigorous physical activity is discouraged for a few days, but most children are able to return to full unrestricted physical activity within a week.

Discomfort following a catheterization procedure is typically very mild. If necessary, it can easily be treated with a mild pain medicine like acetaminophen (Tylenol®) for a day or two.

Your child can typically return to a normal diet the same day or the day after the procedure.