While angiograms are safe, they have the following risks and potential complications:
- Numbness or weakness for a few hours below where the catheter was inserted (rare).
- Bleeding or infection where the catheter was inserted (rare).
- Some people experience itching or a rash as a reaction to the contrast dye. This is temporary and goes away on its own.
- In rare cases, the contrast dye can cause a severe allergic reaction that must be treated with medication.
- For some people, contrast dye can cause reduced kidney function (or even kidney failure in very rare cases) — tell your doctor or the imaging technician if you have kidney disease or diabetes.
- Because CT scans use x-rays, you’re exposed to a small amount of radiation that can cause a slight increase in your lifetime cancer risk.
- Blood vessel injury that might require repair, a blood clot, stroke, or death in extremely rare cases.
Angiograms are a useful tool for providers, providing benefits including:
- Can provide information to help diagnose a variety of heart problems and plan treatment.
- Provides your doctor with detailed information about your blood vessels.
- Is painless and relatively fast, when compared with other heart tests.
Peripheral Angiogram Procedure
The procedure takes an hour or two. You’ll be relaxed but awake, because you might be asked to hold your breath, breathe deeply, or cough. Here is what will happen:
- Before the procedure starts. A nurse will place an IV line to give you sedation (medication that makes you feel comfortable). You will be connected to a heart monitor and a blood pressure monitor. A healthcare provider will clean the skin and clip the hair in the area where the catheter will be inserted — often the groin, but sometimes in the arm or neck.
- Local anesthetic. The doctor will inject numbing medication in the area. This usually feels like a pinprick with some burning, and only lasts a few seconds.
- Placing the catheter. The doctor will insert a sheath (short plastic sleeve) into a blood vessel. You’ll feel some pressure at first. A catheter (a narrow tube) will be put into the sheath and guided to the right area.
- Angiogram. A clear liquid called contrast dye will be injected through the catheter. For a few seconds, you’ll feel a warm sensation. The contrast dye shows up on x-rays to create detailed images of your artery or vein as the blood flows through it.
- Removing the catheter. The catheter will be withdrawn and the sheath will be removed. A healthcare provider may put pressure on the insertion site to prevent bleeding.
Coronary CT Angiogram Procedure
The test itself takes about 20 minutes. Here’s what happens:
- Contrast dye. If contrast dye is injected into your vein, you may feel some warmth in the area for a few minutes.
- Starting the scan. The exam table will slide into the CT machine. A scanner inside the machine will take a series of images. The technician will control the scanner from another room, but he or she can see you and talk with you.
- Lying still. Movement can blur the images, so you will need to lie still during the scan. The technician will also ask you to hold your breath for short periods of time.
After a Peripheral Angiogram
You’ll be moved to a recovery unit. You may need to lie flat for up to four to eight hours.
- In the first few hours, you may want to drink plenty of fluids to flush the contrast dye out of your body.
- In case you have temporary numbness or weakness in your leg, special steps will be taken to make sure you’re safe when you first get up. If you need to urinate and your leg is numb, it may not be safe to walk to the bathroom. You will use a urinal or bedpan instead.
After a Coronary CT Angiogram
When the scan is finished, the technician will remove the IV line and electrodes.
- Drink plenty of water the rest of the day to flush the contrast dye out of your body.
- Your doctor will tell you the results in a follow-up appointment. The information gained during the coronary CT angiogram will help your doctor diagnose your condition and propose a treatment plan.
- The first 48 hours. Watch for swelling or bleeding. The site will be bruised, but this should go away in a week or so. Avoid bending or squatting. Avoid intense activity such as climbing stairs, running, or lifting anything over 20 pounds. Take short walks (5 to 10 minutes) four or five times a day. Avoid constipation.
- Care for the puncture site. Avoid hot baths, hot tubs, or swimming pools for the first five days or until the wound is closed. Showers are okay after 24 hours, but don’t let the spray hit the site. If the site is sealed with a special closure device, ask your doctor for directions.
- Returning to work. When you go back to work depends on your physical condition and the nature of your job. Check with your doctor.
- Getting the results. A radiologist, a doctor who has special training in reading the results of angiograms and other imaging tests, will analyze the images and send a report to your doctor. You’ll get the results in a follow-up appointment.
An angiogram is a test used to diagnose problems with your arteries and veins. An angiogram uses real-time image guidance (fluoroscopy) and provides detailed information to help in planning the best treatment.
An angiogram usually takes about one to two hours. You’ll also need to stay four to eight hours afterward for observation in a special recovery area.
There are two types of angiograms: coronary and peripheral.
Coronary CT Angiogram
A CT (computed tomography) test uses x-rays to create a clear, detailed image of body tissues. A coronary CT angiogram uses this technology to help your doctor detect:
- Problems with the heart muscle or valves
- Problems with the aorta (the main artery that leaves your heart to send blood to the body)
- Blood clots in the lungs
- Infection or disease in the pericardium (the sac that surrounds the heart)
In a coronary CT angiogram, special x-ray equipment takes many images from different angles by rotating an x-ray tube around the body. A computer then uses the information to create detailed images. The images look like thin cross-sections (“slices”) of the area being studied.
This test uses contrast (a special dye that shows up on x-rays). The contrast is injected in a vein. During the test it highlights the arteries that feed your heart.
In a peripheral angiogram, a doctor checks for problems in the blood vessels in other areas of your body.