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dr ajmal What to expect in a cath lab
The cath lab, also known as a catheter laboratory or cardiac catheterisation laboratory, is part of a hospital's cardiac department. Find out what happens there.
A cath lab is where tests and procedures including ablation, angiogram, angioplasty and implantation of pacemakers / ICDs are carried out. Usually you'll be awake for these procedures. A cath lab is staffed by a team of different specialists, usually led by a cardiologist. A cath lab shouldn't be confused with an operating theatre, where you would have surgery such as a heart bypass operation, under a general anaesthetic.


Getting ready
Before you go into the cath lab, you'll change into a gown and a small plastic tube will be inserted into your arm. This tube – a cannula – is there in case you need any medicines during the procedure. You will discuss the procedure with your doctor and sign a consent form, before being taken to the cath lab and asked to lie on an x-ray table.
The table has a mattress for your comfort, as you may be there anywhere between 30 minutes and a few hours, depending on what procedure you are having and how long it takes. You will be connected to an ECG machine so your heart rhythm can be closely monitored. Your vital signs, including blood pressure and blood oxygen levels, will be monitored too.
Sterile paper towels will be draped over you to create a clean environment and reduce the risk of infection. If you are having a general anaesthetic so you are asleep during the procedure (this sometimes happens before an ablation, but not always), an anaesthetist will administer this. Pacemakers are fitted under a local anaesthetic with sedation, so you’ll feel very sleepy.
cathlab1 The procedure
For angiogram, angioplasty or ablation, the skin at either your groin, collarbone or neck will be cleaned using a special solution, before a local anaesthetic is administered by injection to numb the site. The cannula is then inserted, and the catheters are passed through the vein or artery to your heart, using x-ray guidance.
What happens during an angiogram?
During an angiogram, a special dye will then be passed through the catheter and a series of x-rays will be taken. You might feel a hot, flushing sensation from the dye. The dye will show up any narrowed areas or blockages in the artery on the x-ray.

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