Cardiac Catheterization

Doctors prepare for a pediatric cardiac catheterization.

Cardiac catheterization specifically designed for children is one of the many pediatric cardiology services our Nemours children's heart experts offer to ensure your child's healthy future. Pediatric cardiac catheterization is a non-surgical procedure that can be used for both diagnosis and treatment of heart conditions in children.

Learn More About Pediatric Cardiac Catheterization

Your child's doctor may recommend a pediatric cardiac catheterization if there's a problem with your child’s heart (called “diagnostic catheterization”) or possibly to even repair the problem (known as “interventional catheterization.”)

Catheterization in children is performed by inserting a thin plastic, flexible tube (called a “catheter”) into an artery and vein that lead to the heart. Pediatric cardiac catheterization (sometimes also called ʺpediatric heart catheterizationʺ) is done under sedation with local anesthesia or under general anesthesia, depending on your child’s age and condition.

A cardiac catheterization is completely painless – and our pediatric cardiac anesthesiologists will make sure your child is comfortable throughout the procedure.

Nemours/Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children, Wilmington

1600 Rockland Road
Wilmington, DE 19803
Get Map & Directions »
Learn More About This Location »

For Appointments: (302) 651-4200

U.S. News & World Report Best Children’s Hospitals: Cardiology & Heart Surgery
What to Bring
  • photo ID
  • medical and pharmacy insurance cards
  • preferred pharmacy name and phone number
  • names and dosage of all medications, including over-the-counter medication, your child is currently taking
  • guardianship and custody papers, if a legal guardian rather than a parent accompanies your child
New Patients

Bring these forms for your first appointment:

Returning Patients
Forms & Resources
New Patient Forms
Returning Patient Forms
Resources for Patients & Families

If your child needs a cardiac catheterization procedure, you can find one of the country’s finest pediatric cardiology teams right here at the Nemours Cardiac Center in the Nemours/Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children in Wilmington, Del., (ranked among the best children’s hospitals in the country for pediatric cardiology and heart surgery by U.S. News & World Report).

Our state-of-the-art cardiac catheterization suite allows us to offer a special place where our pediatric cardiologists can perform around-the-clock catheterizations in children, using a procedure specifically designed for pediatric cardiac care. Open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, our pediatric cardiac catheterization suite is always available for any child who needs cardiac catheterization services.

Learn About Our Pediatric Heart Care

Our Anesthesia Expertise Specific to Pediatric Cardiology

Our Nemours Cardiac Center has its very own pediatric anesthesiologists, with the experience and skills required to provide specialized anesthesia for children with heart problems from the minor to the very complex. Our pediatric cardiology anesthesiologists provide anesthesia or deep sedation for surgery, cardiac catheterization, and other tests that may be painful or uncomfortable for your child.

Some of the medication we administer is intended to be given before a procedure to produce a relaxed feeling so your child won’t feel so scared or worried. Soon after reaching the location where the procedures are performed, your child will then get further sedation or general anesthesia, which makes for an anxiety- and pain-free experience during the procedure.

In the operating room, we give modern anesthetic medications that provide a safe and smooth transition to pain control after the procedure. When it’s appropriate, epidural medications (given as an injection in the lower back) are used to ease pain after chest surgery.

For catheterization in children and other outpatient procedures, a patient will receive sedation or anesthetic medicines that provide a quick, more comfortable “wake up” and fewer side effects. Our anesthesiologists also “go on the road” to accompany your child to other parts of the hospital to provide sedation for diagnostic tests such as MRI or CT scan.

Because the pediatric cardiology anesthesiologists at the Nemours Cardiac Center often care for patients more than once, we get to know your child and your family, and we’re able to determine which medications and strategies work best for your child’s individual needs. We find that parents are often reassured to see a trusted familiar face as their child makes a trip to the operating room or other hospital location out of their watchful sight.

Personalized, Family-Centered Pediatric Heart Care

Although our team may know your child’s heart, you know your child best. That’s why we strive to always offer “family-centered care.” That means we want you to be an active participant in the decision making and we want to make sure you understand exactly what’s going on at all times.

It means we’ll take the time to explain the diagnosis and treatment in understandable terms, present all of the options, invite your family’s input for creating the right treatment plan for your child, encourage you to stay by your child’s side as much as possible, and make sure your questions are answered and your fears and concerns are addressed.

Learn More About Our Family-Centered Care »

Get More Information on Pediatric Cardiac Catheterization

How Does a Cardiac Catheterization Work?

Catheterization in children is performed by inserting a thin plastic, flexible tube (called a “catheter”) into an artery and vein that lead to the heart. Cardiac catheterization (sometimes also called “heart catheterization”) is done under sedation with local anesthesia or under general anesthesia, depending on your child’s age and condition.

A cardiac catheterization is completely painless – and our pediatric cardiac anesthesiologists will make sure your child is comfortable throughout the procedure.

Your child’s doctor may recommend a cardiac catheterization to:
  • determine if there’s a problem with your child’s heart (called “diagnostic catheterization”)
  • possibly even repair the problem (known as “interventional catheterization”)
What's Diagnostic Catheterization in Children?

Diagnostic cardiac catheterization is a test that’s done before heart surgery or a catheter-based treatment (such as dilating a blood vessel or closing a hole in the heart) to determine the exact details of your child’s heart and how it functions.

If the procedure is done under sedation, some numbing medicine is placed where the catheter will enter. The doctor then guides the tube through the blood vessels and into the heart to take measurements of blood flow, pressure, and oxygen levels in the heart chambers and large vessels close to the heart.

This helps the cardiologist to determine how the heart is functioning and how much blood is flowing through normal and abnormal connections. The catheter is guided using a special X-ray study called “fluoroscopy” (and occasionally ultrasound) to help the doctor figure out where the catheter should go. And pictures of the heart chambers and blood vessels are usually taken using a special X-ray dye known as “contrast,” which is injected through the catheter.

What's Interventional Catheterization in Children?

Depending on your child’s specific heart problem, it may be treated during cardiac catheterization, which often makes open-heart surgery (and surgical incisions in the chest) unnecessary. Our specialists at the Nemours Cardiac Center have extensive experience in the non-surgical treatment of heart disease.

An “interventional catheterization” (sometimes called “therapeutic catheterization”) can be used to:
  • close abnormal holes in the heart
  • open narrow blood vessels and valves
  • permanently treat heart rhythm abnormalities
  • work in conjunction with traditional open-heart surgery to treat complex cases
An interventional catheterization is performed like diagnostic catheterization and allows the doctor to perform procedures such as:
  • closure of abnormal connections inside and outside the heart
  • closure of holes between upper and lower chambers of the heart (such as single or multiple atrial septal defects or muscular ventricular septal defects)
  • closing off an abnormal blood vessel between the aorta and lung artery with a small coil or a special device (as in patent ductus arteriosus, or PDA)
  • balloon angioplasty (in which a small balloon is inflated inside the blood vessel to stretch narrowed arteries and veins)
  • balloon valvuloplasty (using a small balloon to stretch the opening of heart valves)
  • stent implantation (in which a small metal mesh tube is placed within a blood vessel to keep it open)
What's a Hybrid Procedure?

In some complex cases, members of our team work together to perform both open-heart surgery and interventional catheterization procedures in the same setting. By offering this kind of combined treatment option (typically called a “hybrid procedure”) we’re improving the outlook for scores of children, all with decreased discomfort, recovery time, and hospital stays. And we’re proud to be one of only a handful of centers in the United States where these combination treatment capabilities are available.

The operating room in the Nemours Cardiac Center (used exclusively for pediatric heart surgery) is located right next to our cardiac catheterization suite, so that pediatric cardiology team can provide the best treatment for your child in a timely manner, whether it’s surgery, interventional cardiac catheterization, or both.

Learn More About Our Expertise in Heart Surgery »

What Happens After the Cardiac Catheterization?

After catheterization, your child will go to our recovery unit for special monitoring before returning to your private room. In many instances, your child may be discharged later the same day or the next morning. Typically, children are back to their normal selves within a few hours. And catheter-based treatments do not require extended recovery periods. Children can usually even return to school after 3 days.

Throughout your family’s journey with your child’s heart condition, know that at the Nemours Cardiac Center we do whatever it takes to give your child the very best, most compassionate care possible. We’ll be there to help your child and your family every step of the way.