What is interventional cardiology?

Interventional cardiology is a specialized field of heart care that uses minimally invasive procedures to diagnose and treat heart and vascular conditions. Unlike traditional heart surgeries that require large incisions in your chest, interventional procedures can be performed through small incisions in your groin or wrist using a small tube called a catheter.

Interventional cardiologists work in specialized examination rooms known as cardiac catheterization (cath) labs.

What conditions does interventional cardiology treat?

Cardiac catheterization to diagnose a heart condition

Catheter-based procedures can give your interventional cardiologist a more accurate picture of your heart health to determine which condition you have. During cardiac catheterization, a catheter is inserted into the body through the groin or the wrist. Your interventional cardiologist guides the catheter to your heart or a blood vessel to identify any problems, such as artery blockages or valve defects, and treat them effectively.

Procedures that might be performed during a cardiac catheterization include:

  • Angiogram, which uses dyes to reveal blockages or narrowing in your heart’s arteries
  • Angioplasty and stenting to open narrowed or blocked arteries
  • Biopsies (samples) of heart tissue
  • Checking for problems with your heart’s valves, chambers and major arteries
  • Measuring pressure and oxygen levels in your heart
  • Seeing how well your heart pumps

Treating heart conditions with interventional cardiology

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  • Angioplasty and stenting

    Angioplasty and stenting

    During this procedure, your interventional cardiologist guides a catheter with a balloon to an artery that has become blocked or narrowed, often due to plaque buildup. Your physician inflates the balloon to clear the blockage and allow blood to flow freely. Once the balloon has cleared the blockage, a stent (a wire mesh tube) keeps the artery open long-term.

    Your interventional cardiologist may use a drug-eluting stent, a special type of device that contains medications to reduce the risk of scar tissue forming around the stent.

  • Heart valve repair and replacement

    Heart valve repair and replacement

    In qualifying patients, interventional cardiologists can repair aortic stenosis, mitral valve regurgitation and other forms of heart valve disease using minimally invasive catheter-based approaches as an alternative to open-heart surgery. Procedures include:

    • Transcatheter aortic valve replacement, a minimally invasive procedure used to replace a narrowed aortic valve.
    • Transcatheter edge to edge repair (TEER), a solution for mitral valve regurgitation in which a small device is attached to the valve, allowing it to close properly.
    • Valvuloplasty, in which a catheter equipped with a balloon is guided to a narrowed or blocked valve and inflated.
  • Ventricular assist devices

    Ventricular assist devices

    Ventricular assist devices (VADs) boost the heart’s ventricular (lower chambers) function in people with advanced heart failure. Although VADs often require open-heart surgery, percutaneous VADs (PVADs) can be implanted using catheters in the larger vessels of the leg or arm/chest.

  • Blood clot removal

    Blood clot removal

    If you have deep vein thrombosis or a pulmonary embolism, your interventional cardiologist may perform a percutaneous mechanical thrombectomy, in which a thin, flexible tube is used to help break up, dissolve or remove a blood clot.

  • Ablation procedures

    Ablation procedures

    Interventional cardiologists can use a procedure called cardiac ablation to treat damaged heart tissue caused by irregular heartbeats. It can also be used to treat heart conditions, such as cardiomyopathy, which can decrease blood flow out of your heart.

    Your cardiologist may use:

    • Radiofrequency energy: This approach uses heat to scar heart tissue and interrupt electrical signals.
    • Cryotherapy: This approach works similarly to radiofrequency but uses very cold temperatures to create scarring.
    • Alcohol: Alcohol causes damaged areas of the heart muscle to shrink, improving blood flow.

Angioplasty and stenting

During this procedure, your interventional cardiologist guides a catheter with a balloon to an artery that has become blocked or narrowed, often due to plaque buildup. Your physician inflates the balloon to clear the blockage and allow blood to flow freely. Once the balloon has cleared the blockage, a stent (a wire mesh tube) keeps the artery open long-term.

Your interventional cardiologist may use a drug-eluting stent, a special type of device that contains medications to reduce the risk of scar tissue forming around the stent.

Heart valve repair and replacement

In qualifying patients, interventional cardiologists can repair aortic stenosis, mitral valve regurgitation and other forms of heart valve disease using minimally invasive catheter-based approaches as an alternative to open-heart surgery. Procedures include:

  • Transcatheter aortic valve replacement, a minimally invasive procedure used to replace a narrowed aortic valve.
  • Transcatheter edge to edge repair (TEER), a solution for mitral valve regurgitation in which a small device is attached to the valve, allowing it to close properly.
  • Valvuloplasty, in which a catheter equipped with a balloon is guided to a narrowed or blocked valve and inflated.

Ventricular assist devices

Ventricular assist devices (VADs) boost the heart’s ventricular (lower chambers) function in people with advanced heart failure. Although VADs often require open-heart surgery, percutaneous VADs (PVADs) can be implanted using catheters in the larger vessels of the leg or arm/chest.

Blood clot removal

If you have deep vein thrombosis or a pulmonary embolism, your interventional cardiologist may perform a percutaneous mechanical thrombectomy, in which a thin, flexible tube is used to help break up, dissolve or remove a blood clot.

Ablation procedures

Interventional cardiologists can use a procedure called cardiac ablation to treat damaged heart tissue caused by irregular heartbeats. It can also be used to treat heart conditions, such as cardiomyopathy, which can decrease blood flow out of your heart.

Your cardiologist may use:

  • Radiofrequency energy: This approach uses heat to scar heart tissue and interrupt electrical signals.
  • Cryotherapy: This approach works similarly to radiofrequency but uses very cold temperatures to create scarring.
  • Alcohol: Alcohol causes damaged areas of the heart muscle to shrink, improving blood flow.

Benefits of interventional cardiology

Interventional cardiology procedures offer an alternative to traditional, open-heart surgery, which requires a surgeon to make a large incision in the chest and open the rib cage to operate on the heart. These procedures use only tiny incisions to insert a catheter into the body, requiring shorter recovery times and hospital stays and often having a lower risk of complications.

What to expect

You’ll receive instructions from your cardiologist’s office before having an interventional cardiology procedure. Before the procedure, you will likely need to have testing, including blood tests and imaging scans.

You’ll also receive instructions about whether to continue taking your medications and when to begin fasting before the procedure. Talk with your care team about any questions and what you need to know before the procedure.

Depending on the condition treated and recovery progress, you could be discharged home within a day after certain interventional cardiology procedure.

When you’re discharged, you’ll receive a set of at-home care instructions. These instructions will include guidance about signs of complications you should watch for and when it’s safe to resume normal activities. Carefully follow these instructions to ensure you heal quickly and completely.