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The moniker “cath lab” has a somewhat science-fiction vibe to it. There’s something futuristic about the way medical practitioners use these places. With cath labs, people with cardiac problems can receive basic care without needing to undergo major surgery or other invasive treatments. If your doctor feels that more testing or therapy at the catheter lab is necessary to understand your condition fully, they may suggest it.

What is a Cath Lab?

Cath labs play a significant role in the management of cardiac diseases. A catheterization laboratory, often known as a “cath lab,” is a procedural hospital room used for the diagnosis and treatment of cardiovascular illness. Catheters are small, flexible tubes that are used in operations in cath labs; this is where the term comes from. An alternative to surgery for accessing the heart and blood arteries is the use of these catheters.

What are some reasons a patient would be sent to a cath lab by their care team?

Cath labs play a significant role in the management of cardiac diseases. For the diagnosis and treatment of coronary artery disease, heart attacks, chest discomfort, congestive heart failure, peripheral (limb) vascular disease, pulmonary hypertension, and even pulmonary embolisms, sometimes known as blood clots, a physician may refer a patient to a cath lab.

Interventional cardiologists assess and treat artery blockages and other issues promptly in the catheter lab, collaborating with a group of nurses, procedural X-ray technicians, and other support personnel.

Common cath lab procedures include:
  • Cardiac coronary angiogram: This procedure evaluates the blood vessels supplying the heart using catheters and X-ray dye.
  • Coronary stent placement: A procedure in which small metal scaffolds are placed within a blocked coronary artery to keep an artery open.
  • Right heart catheterization: A procedure in which physicians examine blood flow and pressure filling in the right side of your heart
  • Peripheral angiogram: A procedure that evaluates the flow of blood through arteries in the upper and lower extremities, similar to a coronary angiogram.
  • Valve replacement: This minimally invasive procedure is done to implant an artificial valve in your heart to replace a narrowed heart valve.
What can a patient expect from a cath lab experience?

Procedures in cath labs usually take one to three hours. The intricate processes might take longer. Your appointment time may be extended by four to ten hours, or even more, due to the preparation and recuperation period.

An IV line will be inserted by the nurse into the patient’s arm vein prior to the surgery. The sedative drugs will enter the body through the IV. The actual location of the treatment will be cleaned and shaved by a nurse. Following this, the patient will be taken to the catheter lab where the process will begin.

Contemporary X-ray imaging cameras abound in cath labs. The cath lab table may be adjusted to allow the imaging cameras to spin around the patient’s body while they are lying flat on it. Monitors provide vital signs and X-ray pictures and movies in real time during the process.

When the needle puncture site is numbed with local anaesthetic, the patient may experience slight pain. Medication for pain and sedation is used to ensure the process is painless and comfortable. Some patients remain awake but tired during the whole treatment, while others sleep through it.

Upon completion of the surgery, the physician will take out the catheters and assess if manual pressure or a specialised closure device is needed to stop bleeding from the procedure site.