Cardiac catheterization is a common procedure that is used for diagnosing and treating certain heart problems. The procedure consists of inserting a long flexible tube, called a catheter, into a blood vessel of the patient’s upper thigh, arm or neck and placing a special dye into the catheter. As the dye flows into the heart, the doctor can diagnose any abnormalities or can perform cardiac procedures to correct heart problems. Cardiac catheterization does require the use of ionized radiation to provide the doctor with a series of images that can be viewed live on a monitor during the procedure. These images allow the doctor to view any plaque that may have caused the coronary arteries to become narrowed or blocked. The use of these procedures on patients provides a reliable way to diagnose and treat heart problems as it is minimally invasive and rarely causes complications.
Why Cardiac Caths are Done
The most common reason cardiac catheterizations are done is to diagnose chest pain, which can be a symptom of coronary heart disease due to plaque build-up in the arteries. If the doctor finds this problem, treatment can be provided directly through the catheter using a procedure known as angioplasty. This procedure uses a tiny balloon that is sent through the catheter to the affected artery. The balloon is then inflated, pushing the plaque aside, allowing blood flow to return to the heart. Stents are also sometimes placed into an artery to treat weakened or narrowed arteries. Individuals who suffer cardiac arrest due to blocked arteries can be treated quickly using cardiac catheterization to open blocked arteries, thus preventing more damage.
Radiation Exposure Risks To Healthcare Workers
For patients who must have cardiac catheterizations, the benefits of this procedure outweigh the risks of radiation exposure, as the radioactive doses delivered during a single cath procedure are low. However, health care workers who continually work in these labs must take every precaution to reduce radiation exposure to themselves. By taking proper precautions, the risk of serious conditions such as leukemia and thyroid cancer can be reduced.
Protective Devices to Reduce the Risk of Radiation Related Cancers
The occupational exposure of radiation in heart cath labs can be significantly reduced by wearing radiation protection garments such as lead aprons, protective glasses and protective gloves. Lead aprons are effective at blocking radioactivity due to diagnostic x-ray devices such as heart catheterizations. These garments can absorb 90 to 95 percent of the radiation that is emitted in cath labs. By wearing a leaded apron, good safety practices are maintained by healthcare workers who are at greater risk of radioactive exposure.