What is Left Heart Catheterization?

Left heart catheterization is performed to diagnose or treat certain heart conditions. You may receive a mild medicine (sedative) before the procedure starts to help you relax. A flexible tube (catheter) is inserted into an artery. It will be placed in your wrist, arm, or your upper leg. You will likely be awake during the procedure. The procedure may last from less than 1 hour to several hours.

A Live x-ray will be taken to help guide the catheters up into your heart and arteries. A contrast will be injected into your body to highlight blood flow through the arteries; it also shows blockages in the blood vessels that lead to your heart. Then, the catheter is moved through the aortic valve into the left side of your heart. Other procedures can also be done at this time:

  • Ventriculography to check the heart’s pumping function
  • Coronary angiography to look at the coronary arteries
  • Angioplasty to correct blockages in the arteries

How to Prepare for the Test

In most cases:

  • Do not eat or drink for 8 hours before the Test.
  • You may be admitted to the hospital in the morning or the night before the Test.
  • Your doctor will explain the procedure and its risks.

How the Test will Feel

The sedative will help relax before the procedure and local numbing medicine (anesthesia) before the catheter is inserted. You should not feel any pain. However, you may feel some pressure as the catheter is inserted.

Why the Test is Performed

The procedure is used to detect:

  • Cardiac valve disease
  • Cardiac tumors
  • Heart defects
  • Problems with heart function
  • Collect blood samples from the heart
  • Determine pressure and blood flow in the heart’s chambers
  • Examine the arteries of the heart (coronary angiography)
  • Take x-ray pictures of the left ventricle (main pumping chamber) of the heart (ventriculography)

The procedure may also be performed to evaluate and possibly repair certain heart defects or open a narrowed heart valve.

What Abnormal Results Mean

Abnormal results may be a sign of cardiac conditions, including:

  • Aortic insufficiency
  • Aortic stenosis
  • Coronary artery disease
  • Heart enlargement
  • Mitral regurgitation
  • Mitral stenosis
  • Ventricular aneurysms
  • Atrial septal defect
  • Ventricular septal defect
  • Heart failure
  • Cardiomyopathy


  • Cardiac arrhythmias
  • Cardiac tamponade
  • Embolism from blood clots at the tip of the catheter to the brain or other organs
  • Heart attack
  • Injury to the artery
  • Infection
  • Low blood pressure
  • Reaction to the contrast material
  • Stroke
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