Sep 13, 2017, 9:18:40 AM CDT Feb 22, 2023, 3:34:13 PM CST

What is radiation-free heart catheterization and how does it protect young patients?

Members of our pediatric cardiology team answer questions about MRI-guided heart catheterization which is now available at Children's Health.

physicians in catheterization lab physicians in catheterization lab

Children born with congenital heart disease often need multiple tests and procedures, including X-ray-dependent cardiac catheterization. While these procedures can be helpful in diagnosing and treating heart conditions, they can also cause overexposure to radiation. This especially applies to patients who will need multiple procedures over their lifetime – which can be harmful to your child's health.

However, an innovative procedure now offers a safer option for young patients. MRI-guided cardiac catheterization offers a clear diagnosis process and less-invasive treatment – without exposure to radiation. F. Gerald Greil, M.D., Ph.D., and M. Tarique Hussain, M.D., Ph.D., who first performed this procedure at King's College in London, have partnered with Suren Reddy, M.D., and Jennifer Hernandez, M.D., to launch the pioneering Radiation-Free Heart Catheterization Program at Children's Health℠. This collaboration with UT Southwestern physicians makes Children's Health the first hospital in Texas and one of only a few pediatric heart centers in the country to offer radiation-free heart catheterization using MRI.

What is a heart catheterization?

A heart catheterization, also called a heart cath or cardiac cath, is an advanced, minimally invasive procedure used to diagnose and treat heart conditions. A soft, thin tube called a catheter is inserted from the neck or groin blood vessels to take live X-rays. A cardiac catheter measures and examines pressures and oxygen content in the blood vessels and heart chambers.

"Heart catheterizations are the latest treatment for many pediatric heart conditions," says Dr. Reddy. "They offer many benefits over heart surgery, including less pain and a faster recovery for children of all ages."

What is radiation-free heart catheterization?

A radiation-free heart catheterization is like a heart cath procedure but occurs in the magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) suite instead of the catheterization X-ray lab. In addition to being radiation free, it also provides important anatomical and functional data. This helps plan complex cardiac catheter based interventions or surgery in much more detail than previously known.

"Heart catheterizations are safe, but radiation-free heart catheterizations are safer," explains Dr. Greil. "Cardiac MRI provides important data that X-ray angiography cannot provide."

What is an MRI?

MRIs use powerful magnets to create clear images of the body. Unlike X-rays, they don't use any radiation. So far, no harmful effects have been identified.

MRI does, however, give excellent visualization of the heart, much better than the current X-ray catheter system. MRI can also measure directly blood flow in large blood vessels, which makes it more accurate than current X-ray catheterization methods.

"Radiation-free catheterization using MRI for guidance and accuracy offers a very promising technique for the future," adds Dr. Hussain. "I think that we are doing the right thing to make this technology available for our patients."

Why is radiation harmful?

The small amount of radiation given for our catheterization procedures is very safe. However, some children need several repeated procedures. Repeated or prolonged high dose exposure to radiation can increase the risk of cancer or cause local tissue damage.

What happens during these procedures?

During heart catheterizations, the physician makes a tiny incision in the child's leg. They then guide a thin, flexible tube and tiny tools through a vein that leads to the heart. Using these tools, the physician examines the child's heart and blood vessels to diagnose and treat problems.

Will my child be put under anesthesia?

Before a heart catheterization procedure, your child will be given anesthesia so they sleep and stay comfortable.

Learn more

The experts at the Heart Center at Children's Health care for all children's heart conditions, from congenital heart defects to heart disease. Find out how they can help keep your child's heart healthy.

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