Coronary angiography is a test used to find out how narrow your arteries are.
What is angiography and how is it performed?
Angiography is a test that uses X-rays to examine your body’s blood vessels. X-rays provided by angiography are called angiograms. This test is used to study narrow, clogged, enlarged or defective arteries or veins in many parts of your body, including the brain, heart, abdomen and legs.
A coronary angiogram is an X-ray of an artery in the heart. It shows the extent and severity of any heart disease and can help you find out how well your heart is working.
After the test and the collected information, you can talk to the doctor about the possibilities of treatment. This may include angioplasty (stents), bypass surgery or medication.
What happens during coronary angiography?
To take X-rays, the doctor will inject a liquid dye through a thin, flexible tube, called a catheter. The doctor inserts a catheter into the desired artery from the access point. The access point is usually on your hand, but it can also be in the groin.
The color makes the blood flowing inside the blood vessels visible on an X-ray and shows any narrowed or blocked area in the blood vessel. The dye is later removed from your body through the kidneys and urine.
How long does angiography take?
You can expect the intervention to take about half an hour, although it can sometimes take longer. During the procedure, we will monitor you through a device – a heart monitor, which records the pulse and rhythm. If you feel unwell or uncomfortable at any time, you should inform the hospital staff member.
If a stent is placed (angioplasty) during angiography, it will take a little longer.
When can you go home?
You may need to stay in the hospital for a few hours or overnight after the procedure. You may be asked to drink fluids to prevent dehydration and flush your kidneys.
Before you return home, the nurse will instruct you on how to check the access point for bleeding and explain what to do if this happens. If a groin has been used for the access point, you may be asked to avoid heavy lifting and straining for a week to prevent bleeding.
Risks associated with angiography and angioplasty
As with all medical procedures, both coronary angiography and angioplasty are associated with risks and benefits.
Talk to the Pulse Cardiology team about the risks and benefits and any unknowns regarding this procedure. Our medical team can provide you with more information about your individual circumstances and level of risk.
Minor complications of angiography may include:
- Bleeding at the site of the sting under the skin – it should improve after a few days, but if you are worried, consult your doctor
- Bruising – It is common to have a catheter bruise for several weeks
- Allergy to a contrasting color that causes symptoms such as a rash. Before you start the procedure, you should discuss all the allergies you have.
More serious complications are rare, but may include:
- Damage to an artery in the arm or groin by a catheter, which can affect the blood supply to the limbs
- Heart attack
- Kidney damage caused by a contrasting color
- Tissue damage caused by X-rays if the procedure is prolonged
- Serious bleeding
- Fatal outcome
Complications can also be influenced by the following factors:
- Your age – the older you are, the higher the risks
- If the procedure is planned or it is an emergency treatment – emergency treatment is always more risky because there is less time to plan
- If you have kidney disease – the dye used during angioplasty can occasionally damage the kidneys
- If you have one or more blocked coronary arteries
- If you have had serious heart disease in the past
- If images from your angiography show a narrowing or blockage that can be treated immediately, your cardiologist may decide to continue and place a stent (angioplasty) as part of the same procedure.