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What is a catheter?

Catheter is a term used to describe a thin, flexible tube used for medical procedures. You may hear about a catheter being used to drain fluids from the body. That is one application. In heart disease treatment, a catheter is used to perform various procedures within the blood vessels of the body. A catheter can be inserted through a small puncture site in the skin and threaded into blood vessels.

For example, during a diagnostic angiogram, X-ray dye flows through the catheter into the arteries. An angiogram is a test that allows a physician to see images of your blood vessels and identify any blockages in the arteries. During another procedure called angioplasty, a balloon or another device is mounted on the catheter’s tip and guided to a narrowed section of the artery. In the case of balloon angioplasty, the doctor then opens and closes the balloon to push aside the blockage that is preventing blood from flowing through the artery.

Catheter-based procedures often cause little or no pain because there are no nerve endings in the arteries. Also catheter-based procedures, when available and appropriate, can be a less invasive alternative to surgery.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.