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Hearing that your child needs a heart procedure can be stressful. The experts at Children's Hospital Colorado's Heart Institute understand this stress, and are here to provide exceptional and supportive care from diagnosis through treatment and beyond.
Thanks to medical advancements, we can now repair many heart defects using a minimally-invasive procedure called cardiac catheterization instead of open-heart surgery. At our nationally-ranked Heart Institute, our Cardiac Catheterization Program treats more patients and provides better outcomes than any pediatric program in the region.
With pediatric cardiac catheterization accreditation by the Intersocietal Accreditation Commission and the lowest-radiation equipment available, our pediatric cardiac catheterization team and facilities are among the most advanced in the world. By partnering with all cardiologists and sub-specialists in the Heart Institute, we care for patients with a wide range of heart conditions from birth to adulthood – and long after.
What is cardiac catheterization?
Cardiac catheterization (also called "heart catheterization" or a "heart cath" for short) is a procedure where specialized cardiologists insert a long, thin tube called a catheter into the blood vessels and guide it to the heart under the guide of X-ray imaging. This allows them to visualize the heart chambers, arteries and veins and to detect, and often treat, heart problems.
Pediatric cardiac catheterization can help diagnose and treat many heart problems in babies born with congenital heart defects (CHDs) or other childhood heart conditions. At Children's Colorado, our pediatric heart experts use cardiac catheterization to diagnose and treat babies, kids, adolescents and even adults living with adult congenital heart disease (ACHD).
Types of cardiac catheterization
At Children's Colorado, we perform two types of heart catheterization for patients with heart disease or congenital heart defects: diagnostic and interventional. Diagnostic catheterization allows doctors to run a variety of heart tests, and interventional catheterization allows doctors to repair the heart.
Diagnostic heart catheterization
Diagnostic cardiac catheterization gives us a better understanding of how each unique heart works. Diagnostic heart catheterization usually includes three procedures:
Recording blood pressures in different chambers of the heart and blood vessels
Evaluating oxygen content in the blood within each chamber of the heart
Performing an angiogram (a test that uses X-rays to take pictures of the heart and its blood vessels)
During a heart cath, our expert pediatric cardiac interventionists inject a dye into the blood vessels through a catheter (a small hollow tube). The dye helps our team see blood flow and internal structures. They then take an X-ray movie as the contrast dye moves through the heart. The care team watches blood flow through and around the heart to determine if there are abnormalities or blockages. The cardiology team will also be able to see how the heart muscle is contracting and how the valves are working.
Interventional cardiac catheterization for kids and adults with CHD
The purpose of an interventional cardiac catheterization is to fix a defect in the heart. Our cardiologist will first perform most of the diagnostic techniques listed above, and then continue with corrective procedures that could include:
Balloon valvoplasty: using a catheter (a long, skinny hollow tube) with a balloon at the tip that is inflated to open a narrowed heart valve
Balloon angioplasty: using a catheter with a balloon at the tip that is inflated to open narrowed blood vessels
Stent placement: inserting a stent (a small wire mesh tube) on a catheter with a balloon at the tip; the stent expands with the inflation of the balloon and is then able to support narrow blood vessels after the balloon is removed
Arrhythmia ablation: using a catheter to remove tissue that causes an arrhythmia (an irregular heartbeat); many times this is done together with electrophysiology studies
Septal closures: using small devices passed through a catheter to close holes within the heart wall
Heart valve placement: placing an artificial valve in the heart by collapsing it and passing it through a catheter; the valve is then reformed out of the catheter within the heart
Advanced and minimally-invasive interventions for pediatric heart conditions
At our Heart Institute, we are leading the way in providing access to the latest minimally-invasive treatments for pediatric heart conditions. While other hospitals still perform open-heart surgery for many heart conditions, we are able to correct many more heart defects in our cath lab, which allows us to provide highly-specialized care at much lower risk. Among the most advanced procedures we perform in our low-radiation cath lab are:
Interventional catheterization for adults with complex congenital heart disease
Atrial septal defect closure
Due to Children's Colorado's hybrid cath lab capabilities, we can perform many more hybrid operations. In these cases, interventional cardiologists and pediatric cardiac surgeons operate together to correct heart problems with less radiation and less time on cardiopulmonary bypass (a machine that temporarily performs the job of the heart and lungs while doctors operate). This means less risk and shorter recovery for patients.
Why choose Children's Colorado for cardiac catheterization?
No other pediatric cardiac catheterization program in the region can match our procedure volumes or standards for quality and patient care. Our cardiologists lead the way in the use of minimally-invasive cardiac catheterizations to reach and repair heart problems in patients with congenital heart disease. We work with our partners across pediatric cardiology subspecialties and throughout our hospital to provide individualized care and address the full scope of your child's health.
Our accreditation by the Intersocietal Accreditation Commission demonstrates our commitment to providing the highest-quality care in congenital and pediatric heart catheterization. Having this recognition means that we meet or exceed all national healthcare standards for pediatric heart catheterization.
With a team of three dedicated pediatric cardiac interventionists, we perform more than 900 heart caths each year at our Heart Institute, including hundreds of complex interventional cardiac catheterizations. This means that our cardiac catheterization team has more experience and produces better outcomes than any other pediatric cardiac catheterization program in the area.
Before every complex interventional heart cath, our team of experts, including a congenital cardiac surgeon, congenital cardiac interventionist, congenital cardiac anesthesiologist, pediatric cardiologist and pediatric radiologist, plan the procedure together to ensure we account for each patient's unique heart, medical history and needs. In our cath lab, two attending congenital heart disease interventionists, along with a team of specialists, perform every high-risk heart catheterization.
All of our Program's interventional cardiologists have graduated from internationally renowned fellowship programs, bringing together advanced experience and lessons from around the world and giving each patient truly expert and individualized care.
Low-radiation cardiac catheterization
While minimally-invasive catheterization is lower risk than open heart surgery, the procedure does use radiation. And in any medical procedure or test that uses radiation, lowering the radiation dose to the minimum exposure necessary should be a key goal.
Our Program has substantially decreased the amount of radiation needed for heart cath procedures. With the addition of the Philips Azurion Biplane cath lab system and the most advanced vessel navigation technology available, we are among the lowest radiation catheterization labs for congenital heart disease in North America. Both our team and our technology allow us to provide superior care for every congenital heart disease patient.
Due to our Program's size and experience, we are able to help create new techniques and devices to improve cardiac catheterization care for our own patients and around the world. Through these innovations, our goal is to improve patients' heart health with fewer and less invasive procedures.
Our Cardiac Catheterization Program is always involved in clinical and device trials in the U.S., which means our patients have access to the most cutting-edge research, techniques and technology available.