You’ve Been Told You Need a Cardiac Cath Procedure. Now What?

Robert Pyo, MD

Director, Interventional Cardiology
Director, Stony Brook Cardiac
Catheterization Laboratories

Catheters — flexible, ultrathin tubes — have changed the way heart disease is diagnosed and treated. What once required large incisions and long recovery time can now be accomplished with tiny incisions, less pain and faster recovery. Here, Robert Pyo, MD, Director of the Stony Brook Cardiac Catheterization Laboratories at Stony Brook University Hospital and Stony Brook Southampton Hospital, answers your cardiac catheterization FAQs.

What is cardiac catheterization?
Cardiac catheterization, or cardiac cath, is a non-surgical procedure that allows physicians to diagnose and treat diseases of the heart muscle, valves or coronary (heart) arteries. The technique is crucial to lifesaving procedures that range from measuring blood flow in your arteries and heart to unblocking a narrowed artery to providing support for a heart too weak to pump well.

What takes place during a cath procedure? 
During a cardiac cath, your doctor inserts the catheter into a blood vessel in your arm, groin or neck and gently guides it to the arteries in your heart.

Will I be awake during the procedure?
Yes. You will be mildly sedated but awake and conscious during the entire procedure. The doctor will use a local anesthetic to numb the catheter insertion site.

How long does the procedure take?
The catheterization procedure itself takes about 30 minutes, but prep and recovery can add several hours to your appointment time.

Does it involve a hospital stay?
Cardiac catheterization is typically a minimally invasive outpatient procedure and most people go home the same day. Complete recovery generally takes a week or less.

What are the risks?
The chance that problems will occur during cardiac cath are low. A small number of people have minor problems, such as bruising at the puncture site or an allergic reaction to the x-ray contrast dye.

Why do I need a cardiac cath?
Conditions that catheterization can help to diagnose and treat include coronary artery disease (arteriosclerosis); heart valve disease; congenital heart disease, including patent foramen ovale (PFO) and ventricular septal defect; congestive heart failure; and cardiomyopathy or enlargement of the heart.

What are some of the types of procedures performed in the cath labs?
Procedures include coronary angiogram, angioplasty, stent placement, intravascular ultrasound, fractional flow reserve, rotational atherectomy, PFO/ASD closure, protected percutaneous coronary intervention and extracorporeal membrane oxygenation. For qualified patients, diseases of the mitral valve and the aortic valve can be treated using non-surgical, minimally invasive methods.

Why should I choose Stony Brook for my cardiac catheterization?
• Testing and treatments are delivered by medical faculty physicians, making Stony Brook the only academic-based facility of its kind in Suffolk County.
• Our catheterization laboratories are staffed by an experienced and highly specialized cardiac team, evaluating more than 5,000 patients and performing more than 1,500 interventional procedures annually.
• Our cath labs handle the most complex cases on-site, so patients can be treated quickly and made stable without any transport time. Individuals in need of further treatment or surgery have immediate access to our skilled Stony Brook Heart Institute specialists.
• For emergency treatment of patients with heart attacks, we have a “door-to-balloon” time (from arrival time until the blocked artery is opened) of 56 minutes — almost 35 minutes faster than the minimum treatment guidelines — under our “Code H” protocol.
• Stony Brook University Hospital has been named one of America’s 100 Best Hospitals in Coronary Intervention™ for five consecutive years by Healthgrades, the first organization in the country to rate hospital quality based on actual clinical outcomes.
• Our catheterization laboratories provide 24/7 emergency support.

For more information about cardiac catheterization at Stony Brook Heart Institute or to make an appointment, give us a call at (631) 44-HEART (444-3278) or visit


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