An angiography is a test using dye and x-ray to see if the coronary arteries, which supply the blood to your heart, are flowing freely.
Your angiogram shows the doctor how many narrowings are present in the vessels, where they are and how tight they are. It can also tell how your heart is pumping, if there are any problems in your heart valves or the chambers of your heart. An angiogram can also be referred to as a coronary angiogram or cardiac catheterisation.
A coronary angiogram is done as a test for a heart problem or if you are at a high risk of having a heart problem. It can help your doctor decide what treatment you may need.
Reasons for an angiogram may include:
As with most invasive procedures there are some risks but angiogram is considered a safe procedure and serious complications are rare. Some people find lying flat for the procedure uncomfortable. There can be some bleeding from the area around where the catheter (tube) is inserted which can lead to some bruising afterwards.
Occasionally people can be allergic to the dye used. Rarely more serious complications can happen such as heart attack and stroke. Your doctor will go through these risks with you as your overall health and heart condition will influence the decision and need.
Most people are brought into hospital on the day of the procedure. You may be asked to fast for some hours before the test. You may be given some medication just before the procedure to help you relax. An area of skin in the groin or the wrist will be cleaned. This is to allow a small tube (catheter) to be threaded up to your heart through your blood vessel. A local anaesthetic is given to numb the skin over this blood vessel.
After that you will feel very little discomfort. The catheter carries the dye directly to the blood vessels of your heart, which can now be easily seen on the X-ray screen. You can choose to look at the pictures if you wish.
At different times you may be asked to take a deep breath and to hold it for a few seconds while the camera moves around you. During the test it’s quite normal to feel warm and flushed when some dye is pumped in by machine. This lasts about 5 or 10 seconds and may be associated with the feeling that you are emptying your bladder (which you are not!).
To look at the right side of your heart, the doctor will guide a tube with a small balloon at the tip through the right side of your heart into the pulmonary artery. As the tube moves through your heart, oxygen levels and pressure readings may be taken. By injecting small amounts of fluid through the tube the doctor can tell how much blood is pumped from your heart over a certain period of time.
After the test, the tube in your groin, wrist or elbow will be removed and pressure is placed on the site for 10-15 minutes by hand or a pressure device or sometimes a small collagen plug is inserted. When you get back to the day ward you will be asked to rest to allow the wound to heal up. You will usually be discharged on the same day unless there were any complications. If you require an angioplasty and stent then you may be asked to stay in hospital overnight.
At home, you should be able to get up and about the following day and even return to work or do light duties. Any heavy lifting however should be avoided as this puts pressure on the wound in the artery in your groin or arm. You can drive yourself the day following a coronary angiogram but you must not drive yourself home from hospital on the day of the test.
It is common to notice some bruising at the entry site. If bleeding occurs you should apply pressure and if it doesn’t stop contact the hospital. If a lump appears at the entry site of the catheter then you should also contact the hospital. It is possible, although not common, to develop a skin infection at the incision site. This should also be reviewed by your hospital doctor.
If the angiogram test shows that there is disease in your heart or coronary arteries, or both, your doctor will discuss treatments with you. Heart disease can be treated successfully with one or a combination of:
In some cases, if your doctor finds that angioplasty is the most effective treatment to open a narrowed artery it may be performed with or without a stent placement right away so that you won’t need to have another angiogram.
If the angiogram showed that your heart and arteries are normal, it is up to you to keep them healthy. You can do this by not smoking, controlling your blood pressure, monitoring your cholesterol level, taking regular exercise, keeping your weight down and reducing your stress.
Heart & Stroke Conditions A-Z – see our range of guides.
Step by Step through Heart Attack – our patient information booklet
Step by Step through Stroke – our patient information booklet
Step by Step through Heart Medicines – our patient information booklet
Step by Step through Inherited Heart Disease – our patient information booklet
Step by Step through Heart Failure – our patient information booklet
Angina – our guide from symptoms to treatment
AF and You – our information booklet for people living with Atrial Fibrillation