If your child needs treatment for a heart condition, it can be a distressing time for your family. At the St. Louis Children’s Hospital Heart Center, our highly trained doctors specialize in pediatric heart care that uses minimally invasive procedures. We offer these advanced methods for heart care to help children recover quickly to enjoy their best possible health.

What Is Cardiac Catheterization?

Cardiac catheterization is a nonsurgical, minimally invasive procedure in which a doctor threads catheters (thin, flexible tubes) into a blood vessel and guides them to the heart. Catheterization can help diagnose and treat a variety of congenital and acquired heart conditions.

Why Choose St. Louis Children’s Hospital for Your Child’s Heart Care?

Our cardiac catheterization program is one of the most highly respected programs in the nation, offering you:

  • Expert care from doctors who are nationally recognized leaders in cardiac catheterization for children
  • Minimally invasive treatment techniques to delay or avoid the need for open-heart surgery
  • The latest technology for more accurate treatment and shorter recovery times, helping your child get back to an active life sooner
  • Extensive practice in treating the highest risk children, resulting in more treatment expertise and better outcomes
  • A family-centered, compassionate approach that puts your child’s comfort first
  • Our leading Catheterization Lab, which contains two labs fully outfitted with the latest technology and designed for children

At the Heart Center, our pediatric heart specialists include cardiologists (specialists in heart disease) and electrophysiologists (specialists in electrical disorders of the heart, such as abnormal heart rates or rhythms). These doctors have years of experience performing cardiac catheterization for children.

Our experience means that we can handle even the most complex cases. In 2016, we completed:

  • 544 diagnostic and interventional cases
  • 10 hybrid procedures (catheterization + open-heart surgery)
  • 150 electrophysiology studies for diagnosis and ablations for treatment
  • 64 pacemaker and defibrillator implants to treat heart rhythm disorders

Cardiac Catheterization Services We Offer

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Take a virtual tour of the Cardiac Catheterization Lab

The Cardiac Catheterization Lab at The Heart Center offers a number of leading-edge services and treatments, some of which our electrophysiologists helped to pioneer.

Diagnosing heart conditions in children

We use catheterization as an advanced tool for diagnosing child heart conditions. The two most common procedures are:

  • Angiography: After placing the catheter, our doctor passes dye through it to see and take pictures of the heart's chambers, valves and blood vessels. An angiography can also measure blood pressure changes in each heart chamber. 
  • Electrophysiology (EP) study: An EP study measures the heart's electrical patterns to help assess abnormal heart rhythms, or arrhythmias. Our doctors pass tiny electrical wires with electrodes on the ends through the catheter to certain areas of the heart.

Interventional electrophysiology (EP) for arrhythmia

We offer the full range of standard treatments in interventional EP, as well as some emerging techniques. Our electrophysiologists have published some of the foremost EP research and were the first in the world to treat children with certain EP procedures.

Our EP team treats children with all types of arrhythmias (abnormal heart rates or rhythms), including the most complex cases. We are one of the largest providers of interventional EP for children in the country, with expertise in arrhythmia care including:

  • Catheter ablation of all types
  • Implantation of pacemakers and implantable cardioverter-defibrillators (ICD)

Heart surgery preparation and follow-up

Our doctors often use catheterization to prepare children for open-heart surgery. We may first place a catheter to measure pressures and study blood flow patterns to make sure that your child is a good candidate for surgery. Children who have had a heart transplant may also need follow-up catheterization care to ensure that the new heart and arteries are functioning properly.

Heart valve replacement

We have extensive experience in using catheter-based procedures for heart valve replacement, avoiding the need for open-heart surgery. St. Louis Children's Hospital is one of a handful of pediatric centers in the U.S. that is using this minimally invasive approach to treating congenital heart disease in children.

Hybrid surgical-catheter procedures

In this hybrid procedure, we combine open-heart surgery with cardiac catheterization. As one of the largest pediatric heart teams in the nation, our experts in both open-heart surgery and cardiac catheterization work together to provide advanced treatment for children with complex heart conditions. We also offer special hybrid surgery services to treat children and infants with hypoplastic left heart syndrome (HLHS), single ventricle defects and other complex congenital heart defects through our high-risk interstage program.

Cardiac Catheterization: What to Expect

Our experienced teams of doctors and nurses are with you and your child every step of the way through the care journey:

  1. The day before the procedure, your child receives precatheterization tests and imaging, as needed. A cardiologist or electrophysiologist meets you at the Outpatient Testing Area to review your child's medical history, explain the procedure and obtain a signed consent form. We also tell you what time your child should stop eating or drinking for the procedure.
  2. On the morning of the procedure, go to the Admitting Desk at your scheduled time.
  3. When we call your child, the nurse asks him or her to use the bathroom. One hour prior to the procedure, the nurse will place a premedication cream on both groin areas to numb them. Your child may also be given a premedication to drink that causes drowsiness.
  4. You may stay with and hold your child until it is time to enter the cardiac catheterization lab. At that time, you can return to your child's room. If you leave, let the nurse know where you will be. The procedure lasts approximately three hours.
  5. After the procedure, your child returns to the room. The doctor discusses the preliminary findings with you. A thick pressure dressing of elastic tape and gauze sponges will cover the catheter site on your child’s groin area.
  6. Your child may be sleepy for a while from the sedative used during the procedure. To help prevent bleeding, the child should lay flat for several hours. Your child may drink fluids after fully awakening, and we introduce food slowly, as tolerated.
  7. Usually, we discharge your child the evening of the procedure. In certain cases, your child may need to stay overnight after the procedure. Before discharge, a doctor examines your child and determines whether it is appropriate to leave. You will receive discharge instructions and supplies needed for wound care.

Why Choose Us?

St. Louis Children’s Hospital is consistently ranked among the nation’s best pediatric hospitals by U.S. News & World Report, the most comprehensive source of quality-related information on U.S. pediatric hospitals. We follow one simple mission – to do what’s right for kids. That mission comes to life through medical discovery, innovative therapies and compassionate care.

Best Children's Hospitals

Why Choose Us?

St. Louis Children’s Hospital is consistently ranked among the nation’s best pediatric hospitals by U.S. News & World Report, the most comprehensive source of quality-related information on U.S. pediatric hospitals. We follow one simple mission – to do what’s right for kids. That mission comes to life through medical discovery, innovative therapies and compassionate care.

Best Children's Hospitals