An angiography is a test that your doctor can use to look at your arteries and study how blood flows through your body. This procedure can also be used to help with other procedures that treat problems with your heart or arteries.
During an angiography, your doctor numbs your body and inserts a needle near the artery that they want to study. The needle is used to insert a small tube (catheter) into your artery. The tube has a camera that your doctor can use to look at your artery, inject dye that shows how your blood flows, or watch your artery as part of another procedure, like stent installation.
Your doctor may want you to have an angiography if you have heart disease, or if you have had an aneurysm. In these cases, an angiography is an important test that can help your doctor decide on the best treatment for your condition.
There are several different kinds of angiography that your doctor may use to test for different conditions and look at different parts of your body:
- A coronary (KOR-uh-NER-ee) angiography is a test that measures the blood flow in your heart.
- An extremity angiography, or peripheral angiography, looks at the arteries in your hands, arms, feet, or legs.
An angiography is a safe procedure, but some side effects may occur. If you experience pain, bleeding, or swelling after the test, contact your doctor right away.
An angiography is a safe, common procedure, but there are some possible side effects that you should know about.
You may have tenderness and bruising at the place where your doctor inserted the catheter. Some tenderness is normal, but you should call your doctor right away if you have:
- Bleeding that doesn’t stop
- Severe pain in your arm or your leg
Other risks are less common, but can include:
- Allergic reaction to the contrast dye
- A blood clot that travels to your lungs
- Heart attack or stroke
- Kidney damage from the dye used to look at your blood flow
Sometimes, there can also be damage at the place where your doctor puts in the needle and catheter. These risks include:
- Damage to your blood vessels
- Excessive bleeding or a blood clot
- Hematoma (HEE-muh-TOE-muh) (a pool of blood)
- Nerve damage
An angiography is beneficial because your doctor can use it to diagnose many conditions that affect your heart and arteries. The x-rays that your doctor takes during the test can show problems with your arteries or blood flow. Also, an angiography can let your doctor see into your artery while doing another procedure, like an angioplasty, catheterization, or stent installation. This makes those procedures safer and can improve your results.
There are several steps you should take to prepare for an angiography:
- You should not eat or drink for at least 6 hours before the test.
- Your doctor might tell you to stop taking certain medicines, like aspirin or blood thinners, before the test. Never stop taking your medicine unless your doctor tells you to.
- Tell your doctor about all the medicine you take, including those that you buy over-the-counter. This includes any herbs or supplements that you are taking.
- Tell your doctor if you are pregnant, if you are allergic to any medicines, if you have ever had an allergic reaction to x-ray contrast material, shellfish, or iodine substances, or if you have ever had any problems with bleeding.
How the test will feel
You can prepare for an angiography by reading about how the test will feel before you take it. When you go to your doctor’s office for the angiography, they will have you lie down on an x-ray table. This table is hard and cold, so you can ask your doctor for a blanket or pillow.
When the doctor injects the numbing medicine, you may feel a small amount of stinging. You may also feel pressure when your doctor removes the catheter. The dye used to check your blood flow can cause a feeling of warmth, or it may make your skin red (flushed). This usually only lasts a few seconds.
An angiography includes the following steps:
- You will lie down on an x-ray table. You can ask your doctor for medicine to help you sleep and relax.
- The person doing the test will shave and clean an area of your body, most commonly the groin. For a coronary angiography, the area under the arm or chest may be chosen instead.
- A numbing medicine is injected into your skin over the artery that your doctor wants to test.
- Your doctor will place a needle in the artery.
- A thin plastic tube is passed through the needle into the artery. Your doctor will move the tube into the part of the body that they want to study. The tube has a small camera that will let your doctor see pictures of the area on a screen.
- Your doctor can also put dye into the artery. This will let them see the blood flow through the part of your body that is being studied.
- Your doctor will take x-rays of the arteries. These pictures can be used to see what problems you may have in your arteries.
What the test can be used for
An angiography can also be used to treat certain problems. Depending on the purpose of the angiography, your doctor may:
- Use medicine to dissolve a blood clot in your artery
- Use a balloon to open a blocked vein
- Place a small tube called a stent into your artery to help hold it open
During the test, your healthcare team will check your pulse, blood pressure, and breathing during the procedure to help keep you safe.
When the test is done, your doctor will remove the tube from your artery and place pressure on the part of your body where the needle was inserted. This helps to stop bleeding and start healing your wound.
Sometimes, your doctor will use an angiography as part of a different treatment for your heart and arteries. Some of these treatments include:
- Angioplasty (ANN-gee-oh-PLAS-tee)
- Catheterization (KATH-ih-ter-ih-ZAY-shun)
- Stent installation
After the test, your doctor may take several days to review your results. If your test results were simple, your doctor may contact you within three to five days after the test. If your results need to be studied more, it may take seven to ten days to hear back from your doctor. You may be able to receive your results over the phone, or you may need to come into the office to talk with your doctor.
If your angiography test results were normal, there may not be any needed follow-up from the test. However, if your results showed that there might be a problem with your arteries, your doctor may decide on further tests or treatments for your condition.
An angiography can be used to diagnose many problems. Some of these include:
- Aneurysms (ANN-yuhr-is-ems)
- Blood clots
- Other diseases of the arteries
Sometimes, abnormal results can be caused by other issues, like:
- Inflamed blood vessels
- Injured blood vessels
- Berger disease
- Takayasu (tahk-EYE-ah-SUE) diseases