|Before discussing cardiac catheterization, one needs to
understand how the heart works.
The heart is a
muscular, hollow organ that constantly pumps blood throughout the body.
It has four chambers. The upper chambers (atria) collect blood while
the lower chambers (ventricles) pump the blood. Between the four
chambers are valves which control the flow of blood within the heart.
In order to keep pumping blood, the heart must have a continuous supply
of oxygen. The coronary arteries are the vessels which supply the
oxygen. These vessels travel on the outer surface of the heart and
divide into smaller branches which penetrate into the heart muscle.
Heart catheterization is an x-ray test which allows
doctors to diagnose a number of cardiac conditions: congenital heart
defects (defects present at birth which may not be discovered until
later in life as well), defective heart valves (narrowed or leaking),
and coronary artery disease. The inside walls of arteries are normally
smooth and flexible, allowing blood to flow through them easily. These
may become plugged with fatty deposits and may lead to chest pain and
in women may at times be explained by smaller or more spread out
deposits within the coronary arteries which can be missed by just
analyzing the catheterization x-ray pictures. Using a very small camera
with intravascular ultrasound, one can view directly these deposits.
During the catheterization measurements of coronary blood flow can also
be obtained. Abnormal blood flow may show small vessel disease which
is another explanation for chest pain. These are two newer areas of
study for chest pain in women.