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Home > For Patients > Information and Guides: Angiogram

Angiogram:  A Guide for Patients and Families

What is an angiogram?

An angiogram is a type of X ray image test that demonstrates the arteries and veins in specific organ or body part.  Physicians often use this test to study narrow, blocked, enlarged or malformed vessels in many parts of parts of the body, including your brain, heart, kidneys, abdomen and legs.  When the arteries are studied, the test is also called an arteriogram.  If the veins are studied it is called a venogram.  This guide will be  referring to an artery angiogram  or arteriogram as mentioned above.
In order to see these images under x ray, the physician will inject a liquid, sometimes called, “dye” through a thin, flexible tube called a catheter.  The physician threads the catheter into the desired artery or vein from an access point.  The access point is usually in your groin but it can also be in your arm or less even another location.  The dye also called contrast makes the blood flowing inside the blood vessels visible on an x ray.  The contrast is later eliminated from your body through your kidneys by way of your urine

When should I get an Angiogram?

Since angiography is an invasive technique, it is recommended in specific situations when precise information regarding blood vessels is required, and when this precision cannot be adequately provided by noninvasive imaging techniques such as MRI, CT or ultrasound.  Examples of some conditions that angiography would be needed included:

  • Blockages of the arteries inside and outside your heart
  • Enlargements of the arteries, called aneurysms
  • Uncontrolled high blood pressure, kidney artery conditions
  • Symptoms that may be caused by inadequate blood supply
  • Performed to outline arterial anatomy prior to surgery

Sometimes physicians can also treat a problem during an angiogram..  They may be able to dissolve a clot that he or she discovers during the test.  A physician may also perform an angioplasty and stenting procedure to clear blocked arteries during an angiogram, depending on the location and extent of the blockage.

Is it safe? What should I expect?

A properly trained and experienced physician should perform angiography.  It is a safe procedure without significant long-term side effects.  However, as with any other invasive procedures, complications can occur.  Blood clotting problems, kidney problems, obesity and advanced age can increase your risk for developing complications during and after an angiogram.  Allergies can increase your risk of reaction to the contrast dye.  The extra IV fluids associated with angiograms con sometimes cause problems for patients whose hearts have poor pumping ability such as those with congestive heart failure.

How do I prepare?

Your physician will perform blood tests to determine your blood’s ability to clot and to assess your kidney function.  Based on the test results and the kind of angiogram you are to have, your physician may give you special instructions regarding your regularly taken medications.  Usually you will be asked not to eat or drink anything within 6 hours of your angiogram.If you have allergies to the contrast material or to iodine or shellfish, you may be required to take medication before the test to lessen your risk of an allergic reaction.  You may need to stay overnight in the hospital, depending upon what procedure was done, if the physician fix a problem at the same time, or if it later in the day, rather that going home at a very late hour.  If you are not expected to stay overnight, you need to arrange for a ride home.

What happens during an angiogram?

Initially, an intravenous line is started, probably in the hand or arm.  You are given medication through this intravenous line to help you relax or even lightly sleep.  The area where the catheter will be inserted, usually into an artery in your groin or near you elbow, is cleaned. Any hair in that area will be has to be shaved to reduce your risk of infection.  The physician will give you a local anesthetic injected into the skin, and it is normal to feel a small amount of stinging in this area for a brief time.  Once the area is numbed, the physician punctures the artery with a hollow needle, advances a thin wire through the needle, threads a catheter over the wire and guides it to the desired location.  X rays are projected on a video screen to see the catheter as it moves through the arteries.  The table is moved to follow the catheter as it moves through your blood vessels. Once the catheter is in the proper place, contrast dye is injected.  The contrast causes a brief, mild warm feeling as it enters the bloodstream.  You may be asked to hold our breath for 5 to 15 second during the exam.  It is very important to lie very still during the procedure, because movements can cause blurring of the x ray pictures.  Angiograms generally take about 1 hour to complete if only x rays images are done.  However, if the physician is fixing a problem that is seen, using angioplasty or stenting, the procedure can take longer depending on how much is being done.

Are there any complications?

Complications may include bleeding, pain or swelling at the puncture site.  Pain, numbness or coolness in the arm or leg punctured as well.  These symptoms may mean bleeding from the site or blockage of an artery.  Bruising at the puncture site is common and a pea size bump may be felt in your groin.  With healing, and blood reabsorbing, both of these should resolve.  Rarely, impaired kidney function, or kidney failure can occur following an angiogram, especially if you already have kidney disease.  Also, rarely, severe allergic reactions can occur, especially for people who have had a previous reaction to the contrast dye.  This is why additional medications may be ordered prior to you procedure.  Infrequently, a patient my experience shortness of breath from fluid overload if they have a heart condition associated with poor pumping action, such as congestive heart failure.

What can I expect after an angiogram?

After the exam, you will be monitored for about 6 hours or more depending on your particular case.  During this time, you should keep the arm or leg that was punctured straight to minimize bleeding risk from that site.  A nurse will be checking you puncture site often for bleeding or swelling.  Your blood pressure and pulse will be taken at regular intervals.  The pulses in your feet will also be checked. You will be asked to drink fluids to prevent dehydration and to flush the dye from you kidneys.  You will be able to eat and drink when you feel up to it as usual.  Before going home, someone will go over some discharge instructions with you regarding physical activity, but you should be able to resume normal activities within 2 days of the procedure.

How will I learn the results?

The physician performing the exam will inform your referring physician of the findings from your exam.  The results will be available to your physician immediately after the procedure, although in complex situations, it may require additional reviewing of the x ray films for more interpretation.


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