Heart Institute

What to Expect for Your Child's Heart Catheterization


A video for parents and kids

Learn what to expect if your child is having a heart catheterization procedure at Children's Hospital Colorado. A former patient explains where to go, who you'll meet, about the procedure/recovery, and going home.

Pre-procedure instructions for diagnostic and interventional catheterization

The person who schedules your child's heart cath will provide specific instructions for when to stop eating and drinking prior to the procedure. As a reminder:

  • 8 hours prior: children should not eat any solid food, including candy and gum.
  • 6 hours prior: infants may have milk, formula or fortified breast milk until this point.
  • 4 hours prior: infants may have breast milk until this point.
  • 2 hours prior: all patients may have clear fluids, such as water, until this point.

It is crucial to follow these instructions. If your child eats or drinks beyond these cut-off times, it puts his safety at risk and could delay or cancel the procedure. If your child is ill, has a fever, or has been exposed to a contagious disease, such as chicken pox, please notify your cardiologist's office or the scheduling office at (720) 777-8696.

What to expect on the day of the procedure

This is a big day for your child, and he needs your full attention. We recommend that you not bring other children to the hospital with you; if other children do come with you, they will need another adult with them at all times.

Before the procedure

The Cath Lab team will see your child before the procedure, and a member of the cardiology team will explain all of the planned tests and catheterization procedures to you. Some of the tests will include blood and urine tests, electrocardiograms (EKG), chest X-rays and an echocardiogram (ECHO). Feel free to ask questions at any time.

Once your child is in the Cath Lab, he will be moved onto the special bed where the catheterization will take place. The nurses will cover your child with warm blankets, start an IV, and hook up the devices to monitor blood pressure, oxygen saturation, heart rate, etc. The IV will be used to deliver fluids and medicine to make your child sleepy and relaxed during the catheterization. Your child's physician and/or anesthesiologist will discuss the best way to make to make sure your child is comfortable (about 90% of kids will be asleep and closely monitored by our cardiac anesthesiologist during the procedure).

A sterile drape will cover your child's entire body in order for the cardiologist to perform the procedure. The area where the catheter will be inserted (usually in the groin area) is cleaned with an antiseptic and numbed with medicine. The catheter is then inserted into the vein and/or artery; a catheter is a small hollow tube that is similar to IV tubing. The cardiologist will use X-ray cameras to guide the catheter to the areas of the heart that he wants to see or repair.

During the procedure

You may stay with your child in the Cath Lab before the procedure begins while he undergoes anesthesia. Once your child is under anesthesia, someone will escort you to the waiting room. You can wait here or visit other areas of the hospital, such as the cafeteria and gift shop.

A nurse will give you a pager that will alert you when there are status updates on your child's procedure. If the pager beeps, go to the waiting room and answer the phone. Once the procedure is finished, please wait to speak with the cardiologist for a full report. Pagers do not work outside the hospital.

After the procedure

After a catheterization procedure, your child will be moved to a recovery area to wake up. Once your child is awake, the nurse will make sure that vital signs are stable and that your child is taking fluids well. Most children are able to go home the day of the test, but some will need to stay overnight. All kids need to stay still for several hours after the test to ensure that bleeding to the groin or the area where the tube was inserted has stopped. After reviewing the exam and test results, your child's cardiologist will talk with you about treatment and the results of a procedure.

When your family leaves Children's Colorado, a nurse will give you detailed instructions so your child can recover at home. Please follow these instructions carefully. A few days after your discharge, someone from The Heart Institute will call to check in and schedule a follow-up visit.