Angiogram – A Basic Guide


An angiogram is a procedure to take x-ray images of the blood vessels to diagnose a range of medical conditions. Coronary angiography is a part of heart catheterization procedures that diagnose the presence of blocks in the blood vessels supplying to the heart muscles.

Why is it done?

A coronary angiogram is usually performed if you have:

  • Symptoms of coronary disease (Persistent Symptoms)
    • Pain in the chest, neck, arm, or jaw (Angina)
    • Breathing Difficulty
  • Abnormal tests on other evaluation
    • Positive TMT
    • Abnormal Echo
    • Abnormal Cardiac Enzymes
  • Heart attacks (Acute Coronary Syndromes)
  • Evaluation before a major non-cardiac surgery
  • Before a major cardiac surgery

How does Angiogram work?

An angiogram is like an x-ray. However, since blood vessels do not show up on normal x-rays, a dye is injected into the blood vessels to increase contrast and clarity, making it easier to see and interpret the images that are produced.

How to prepare for the Angiogram procedure?

Coronary angiograms are usually done in the catheterization lab of the hospital. You will be instructed on how to prepare for the procedure. In general, this includes:

  • Being on an empty stomach for the procedure for 3 to 6 hours
  • Taking any medications as prescribed for the procedure
  • Taking any special medications for diabetes and other pre-existing medical conditions as approved by your doctor

Risk Factors

Coronary angiography, like any procedure involving the heart, has some risks, but major complications are rare. The risks include: (less than 1 in 10,000)

  • Heart attacks
  • Strokes
  • Injury to the artery that has been catheterized
  • Allergic reactions to the medication or dye
  • Kidney damage
  • Excessive bleeding
  • Irregular heart rhythms
  • Infections

What happens during the test?

Coronary angiography is typically a 4-stage procedure:

  • You will be placed on an x-ray table, and your heart rate and blood pressure will be continuously monitored.
  • After a local numbing agent is given to minimize discomfort, the catheter is inserted into an artery (in the arm or groin). Dye is injected while the procedure is observed in real-time on a monitor
  • X-ray images are taken.
  • The catheter is removed.

What happens after the Angiogram tests?

After the angiogram, you will stay in bed for some hours before being allowed to go home. At home, you must not, for a period advised by your doctor, do the following:

  • Lift any heavy objects or undertake any strenuous exercise
  • Consume any alcohol
  • Do any driving
  • Depart from the schedule of medications prescribed to you

The results

The angiogram results will show your doctor the following:

  • Which of your arteries are partially or completely blocked
  • Pinpoint exactly where the blockages are
  • Show the extent of the blood flow is blocked
  • Show the blood flow through the heart
  • Show the current status of any previous procedures that may have been performed

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