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Myocardial biopsy

Myocardial biopsy is the removal of a small piece of heart muscle for examination.

Alternative Names

Heart biopsy; Biopsy - heart

How the Test is Performed

Myocardial biopsy is done through a catheter that is threaded into your heart (cardiac catheterization ). The procedure will take place in a hospital radiology department, special procedures room, or cardiac diagnostics laboratory.

To have the procedure:

  • You may be given medicine to help you relax (sedative) before the procedure. However, you will remain awake and able to follow instructions during the test.
  • You will lie flat on a stretcher or table while the test is being done.
  • The skin is scrubbed and a local numbing medicine (anesthetic) is given.
  • A surgical cut will be made your arm, neck, or groin.
  • The health care provider inserts a thin tube (catheter) through a vein or artery, depending on whether tissue will be taken from the right or left side of the heart.
  • If the biopsy is done without another procedure, the catheter is most often placed through a vein in the neck and then carefully threaded into the heart. The doctor uses moving x-ray images (fluoroscopy) to guide the catheter to the correct area.
  • Once the catheter is in position, a special device with small jaws on the tip is used to remove small pieces of tissue from the heart muscle.
  • The procedure may last 1 or more hours.
Biopsy catheter

How to Prepare for the Test

You will be told not to eat or drink anything for 6 - 8 hours before the test. The procedure takes place in the hospital. Most often, you will be admitted the morning of the procedure, but in some cases, you may need to be admitted the night before.

A health care provider will explain the procedure and its risks. You must sign a consent form.

How the Test will Feel

You may feel some pressure at the biopsy site. You may have some discomfort due to lying still for a long period of time.

Why the Test is Performed

This procedure is routinely done after heart transplantation to watch for signs of rejection.

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Your doctor may also order this procedure if you have signs of:

Normal Results

A normal result means there was no abnormal heart muscle tissue.

What Abnormal Results Mean

An abnormal result means abnormal tissue was found. This test may reveal the cause of cardiomyopathy. Abnormal tissue may also be due to:

Risks

Risks are moderate and include:

  • Bleeding from the biopsy site
  • Cardiac arrhythmias
  • Infection
  • Injury to the recurrent laryngeal nerve
  • Injury to the vein or artery
  • Pneumothorax
  • Rupture of the heart (very rare)
  • Tricuspid regurgitation

References

Liu P, Baughman KL. Myocarditis. In: Bonow RO, Mann DL, Zipes DP, Libby P, eds. Braunwald's Heart Disease: A Textbook of Cardiovascular Medicine. 9th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2011:chap 70.

Massie BM. Heart Failure: Pathophysiology and diagnosis. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman's Cecil Medicine. 24th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2011:chap 58.

Updated: 5/13/2014

Michael A. Chen, MD, PhD, Associate Professor of Medicine, Division of Cardiology, Harborview Medical Center, University of Washington Medical School, Seattle, Washington. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.


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