Radial Cardiac Catheterization: Through the Wrist to the Heart

If we truly wore our hearts on our sleeves, doctors would have no trouble examining our tickers. However, to get a good look at this crucial organ, you need to see inside the heart itself.


Cardiac catheterization offers one way to do that.


In this procedure, a doctor places a thin tube called a catheter inside a large artery (blood vessel) that leads to the heart. Through the catheter, the doctor can check for many types of heart problems, including blockages that hurt blood flow and could trigger a heart attack.


Traditionally, the catheter is placed in the femoral artery—a large artery in the groin that leads to the heart. Now, doctors are beginning to place the catheter in the radial artery, which is located in the wrist.


Studies have shown benefits to entering the heart through the wrist. Patients may:

  • Bleed less, both internally and externally.
  • Experience less discomfort because they can sit up, walk and eat immediately after the procedure.


As with any procedure, radial cardiac catheterization has some risks. Muscle spasms and blood clots may happen in a few cases. Generally, however, the procedure has low complication rates.


Who needs it and why


Your doctor may recommend a cardiac catheterization for a variety of reasons. He or she may want to:


• Check out why you’re having chest pain.


• Look for a heart defect.


• Examine your heart before surgery.


• See how well your valves are working.


• Take samples of your heart muscle.


Ask your doctor which catheterization method—through the groin (femoral) or the wrist (radial)—is best for you.




American Heart Association

National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute




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Stacy Madden