What Is an Angiogram? 

An angiogram is a medical procedure for detecting blockages and other abnormalities in your cardiovascular system – your heart and blood vessels. Also known as an arteriogram, this procedure involves the insertion of a long, narrow tube called a catheter into a major artery. A dye is injected via the catheter into the bloodstream, which can then be tracked by means of X-rays as it circulates through the body. The purpose of an angiogram is to provide your physician and medical team with the information they need to effectively assess your cardiovascular health and to diagnose any potential problems. In some cases, the catheter itself will be used to perform a corrective procedure.

Cardiovascular disease in various guises remains a leading killer of Americans. If you are concerned about your heart health, or have one or more of the risk factors for cardiovascular disease, see the specialists in cardiology at Baptist Health.

When Is an Angiogram Needed?

Physicians perform angiograms in response to a variety of symptoms and conditions:

  • New or increasing incidences of chest pain
  • Spreading pain that reaches the arms, shoulders, neck, or jaw
  • Abnormal stress test results
  • Heart defects
  • Heart valve issues
  • Chest injuries.

Blood-flow obstructions and cardiovascular irregularities are often precursors to heart attacks, strokes, and other serious medical ailments. Angiograms are one of the best tools that medical science has for detecting these conditions before they worsen. 

How Do I Prepare for an Angiogram?

Angiograms require some preparation beforehand. Here are steps that you’re likely to take:

  • Your physician will provide you with guidance on getting ready for the procedure. Be sure to follow his or her instructions. 
  • You won’t be allowed to eat or drink anything for several hours beforehand.
  • Tell your physician about any drugs or medications that you’re taking. He or she may ask you to go off them for a period of time prior to the procedure. If you’re diabetic, you may need to change the timing or dosage level of your insulin. 
  • Be sure to communicate any allergies you have, especially to latex, iodine, shellfish, or penicillin and related drugs. 
  • Bring eyeglasses and hearing aids to the hospital, if you need them, but you may not be able to wear them while undergoing catheterization.
  • Do your best to relax beforehand.
  • Arrange to have someone drive you home after discharge from the medical facility. 

What to Expect During an Angiogram

Most angiograms are performed in a hospital. Here’s what you can expect once you’ve arrived onsite and are registered for the procedure.

What Happens Before an Angiogram

A member of the medical staff will check your pulse and blood pressure. You’ll be asked to remove any jewelry and dentures (if you have them). You’ll wait to start your procedure in a pre-operating room. A friend or family member can sit with you. 

What to Expect During the Procedure

Angiograms are typically performed in a specially equipped operating room with X-ray and imaging technology. On arrival, you’ll have an IV line attached to your arm, for the delivery of a sedative, and electrodes placed on your chest, to monitor heart activity during catheterization. You may be awake throughout the procedure.

A nurse or medical technician will numb a spot on your body, usually somewhere on the leg, for insertion of a plastic sheath. The catheter will enter a major blood vessel through the sheath. Your physician will use the X-ray machine to guide the catheter to your heart or whichever part of your body is being mapped. The catheter’s movement should be painless. If you feel pain or discomfort, let the medical staff know. 

Once the catheter is in place, a small amount of dye will be injected into your bloodstream. This dye will be visible in the photographs taken by the X-ray. Your medical team will use these pictures to locate the source of your medical symptoms. A typical angiogram procedure runs two to three hours. 

What Are the Risks of an Angiogram?

Like almost any medical procedure, there are risks associated with an angiogram. Most are relatively minor. Likely complications include infection, bleeding, or arterial damage. More serious possibilities are:

  • Tissue damage from X-ray exposure
  • Allergic reactions to the dye
  • Kidney damage
  • Arrhythmias 
  • Heart attack
  • Stroke.

Angiogram Recovery and Results

Recovery from an angiogram can take several hours. You’ll go from the operating room to a recovery area, where the sedative will wear off and the plastic sheath will be removed from the insertion point. Dressings and pressure will be applied to limit bleeding and protect the incision from infection. After an hour or so, you’ll move again, this time to a regular hospital room. You’ll be allowed to eat and drink. Your length of stay before going home will depend on your health status and the nature of your medical condition.

Angiography is chiefly a diagnostic tool, so you’ll want to have your physician explain the test results generated by your procedure. He or she can explain any insights gained regarding your health status, and the need for follow-up medical care, including additional invasive procedures.

Learn More About Angiograms and Other Cardiovascular Procedures from Baptist Health

If you have a concern about your cardiovascular health, let us get to the heart of it. For more information on angiograms and related procedures, contact your Baptist Health primary care physician.