Cardiac Catheterization for Congenital Heart Defects in Children

Specialists at the Pediatric and Congenital Heart Program, part of Hassenfeld Children's Hospital of New York at NYU Langone, can diagnose and repair some types of congenital heart defects using cardiac catheterization, a minimally invasive procedure.

Cardiac catheterization is used in conjunction with other tests, including heart sonograms, which are called echocardiograms, and MRI scans of the heart, to help diagnose congenital heart defects. After diagnosis, cardiac catheterization can also be used to provide treatment for babies and children with certain types of congenital heart defects. 

Before a catheterization, a baby or child usually receives general anesthesia to prevent discomfort and unwanted movement during the procedure. The cardiologist may also give an injection of a local anesthetic to numb the skin where the catheter—a thin, flexible tube—is to be inserted. 

The doctor then threads the catheter through an artery or vein, usually in the leg near the groin, and into the heart. A liquid dye is injected through the catheter to highlight blood flow through the heart. Continuous X-ray images of this blood flow appear on a monitor. This technique is called fluoroscopy.

The doctor can insert small tools or devices, such as inflatable balloons, scaffold-like structures called stents, wire coils, and other devices through the catheter to perform a variety of procedures. Learn more about preparing for cardiac catheterization and the types of catheterization procedures.

Recovery from Catheterization Procedures

Most children return home the same day after cardiac catheterization. However, some children may need to remain in the hospital for monitoring overnight after more complex procedures to ensure complete recovery before leaving the hospital.

Children usually are able to return to their normal activities the next day after catheterization. Older children and adolescents may need to avoid vigorous physical activity for a few days.

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