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Angiography

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The Manual's Editorial Staff

Last full review/revision Oct 2019| Content last modified Oct 2019
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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 or stroke)

  • Narrowing (such as caused by hardening of the arteries)

  • A bulge in a weak blood vessel wall (aneurysm)

  • Tears in a blood vessel

Usually doctors do angiography in arteries. Arteries are the blood vessels that carry blood away from your heart. 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?

Radiation

Angiography exposes you to more radiation than a plain x-ray 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.

Other problems

  • 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

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