What is angiography (angiogram)?
"Angio" is a medical term for blood vessels, and "graphy" has to do with pictures (think photography). So angiography is taking pictures of your blood vessels. It takes the pictures using x-rays. The picture taken is called an angiogram.
Doctors usually need pictures of only 1 or 2 blood vessels in a problem area, not all of your blood vessels. To get the pictures, doctors use a needle to put a catheter (a thin, flexible tube) in a blood vessel near the problem area. Then they inject a liquid (called a contrast agent) through the catheter. The contrast agent shows up on x-rays (video or pictures), so it outlines the inside of the blood vessels. The pictures show how well your blood is flowing and if there are problems with your blood vessels.
Doctors usually insert the catheter through a small cut in your groin or arm
Angiography is used to look for problems in your blood vessels
During angiography, doctors may also treat a problem they see in your blood vessels
Why would I need angiography?
You may need angiography if doctors think you have blood vessel problems such as:
A blockage (such as a blood clot that caused a heart attack Heart Attack A heart attack is when blood flow to part of your heart is suddenly blocked and some of your heart muscle dies. Doctors use the term myocardial infarction to refer to a heart attack. Myocardium... read more or stroke Stroke A stroke is a sudden brain problem that happens when a blood vessel in your brain either gets blocked or breaks open and bleeds. Part of your brain stops getting blood. Brain tissue that doesn't... read more )
Narrowing (such as caused by hardening of the arteries)
Tears in a blood vessel
Usually doctors do angiography in arteries. Arteries are the blood vessels that carry blood away from your heart to the entire body including to the heart muscle. Angiography in arteries is called arteriography.
Less often, doctors do angiography in veins. Veins are the blood vessels that carry blood back to your heart. Angiography in veins is called venography.
What happens during angiography?
The test may last for less than an hour up to several hours, depending on which blood vessels doctors want to see.
Before the test
Doctors will usually ask you not to eat or drink for 12 hours.
During the test
You'll get a medicine to help you relax but not go to sleep
Doctors will give you a shot to numb the area where they’ll cut a small opening, usually in your groin or sometimes in your arm
They’ll insert a catheter into the cut and thread it to the blood vessels they want to see
They'll inject the contrast agent through the catheter
X-ray machines will take pictures while the contrast agent flows to your blood vessels
During the test, doctors may ask you to take deep breaths, hold your breath, or cough
After the test
Doctors remove the catheter and apply pressure to the cut to prevent bleeding. You may need to lie flat for several hours. Sometimes, you may need to stay overnight in the hospital. Doctors may tell you to rest and drink extra fluids.
What are the risks of having angiography?
Angiography exposes you to more radiation than a plain x-ray Plain X-Rays A plain x-ray is an imaging test that takes a picture of the inside of your body. It uses a low dose of x-ray radiation. X-rays show body parts according to how dense (solid) they are. Doctors... read more would. Doctors try to limit the total amount of radiation you are exposed to over your lifetime. Too much radiation can raise your chance of getting cancer.
The needles can hurt a little
Some people feel uncomfortable when the contrast agent is injected
Some people have an allergic reaction to the contrast agent (such as sneezing, a rash, or trouble breathing)
If you have kidney problems (such as kidney failure), the contrast agent can make your problems worse
The part of your body where doctors insert the catheter may bleed, get infected, or hurt