An angiogram is a diagnostic test that uses X-rays and a contrast dye to visualize the blood vessels in the body, including those in the brain. This test can help diagnose a brain aneurysm.

An angiogram, or cerebral angiography, can help doctors diagnose a brain aneurysm. It can allow them to find out the location, size, and shape of the aneurysm.

During cerebral angiography, doctors insert a thin, flexible catheter through a blood vessel in the groin or arm and guide it up to the blood vessels in the brain.

They then inject a contrast dye through the catheter and take X-ray images to reveal any abnormalities in the blood vessels, such as an aneurysm.

This article looks at how angiograms can help diagnose a brain aneurysm.

A person undergoing an angiogram to diagnose a brain aneurysm -2.Share on Pinterest

The preparation for an angiogram typically involves the following:

  • Medical history and physical exam: A doctor will review a person’s medical history and perform a physical exam to assess overall health. They will also discuss any medications the person is currently taking.
  • Fasting: The doctor will instruct a person to refrain from eating or drinking anything for a certain period — usually 6–8 hours — before the angiogram.
  • Medications: The doctor may ask a person to stop taking certain medications that could increase the risk of bleeding, such as blood thinners, for a few days before the procedure. They will provide specific instructions on which medications to stop taking and when.

If a person is pregnant, it is important to inform the healthcare team. If cerebral angiography is necessary, the healthcare team can take precautions to decrease a person’s exposure to radiation.

People who are nursing should also speak with the doctor. A doctor may suggest that a person pump breast milk before the procedure. A person should keep this breast milk to use until the contrast material has cleared from their body. This usually takes about 24 hours after the procedure.

The healthcare team will perform the following steps:

  1. Local anesthesia: A healthcare professional will apply a local anesthetic to the insertion site to numb the area.
  2. Catheter insertion: Using X-ray guidance, the surgeon will insert a thin, flexible catheter through a small incision in the skin and thread it through the blood vessels to the brain.
  3. Contrast dye injection: Once the catheter is in place, the surgeon will inject a contrast dye through the catheter. The dye will travel through the blood vessels and highlight any blockages, aneurysms, or other abnormalities.
  4. Imaging: Healthcare professionals will take X-rays as the dye moves through the blood vessels. In some cases, they may use additional imaging techniques, such as CT and MRI, to obtain more detailed images.
  5. Catheter removal: Once the procedure is complete, the healthcare team will remove the catheter and apply pressure to the insertion site to stop any bleeding. Stitches are not usually necessary.

Is it painful?

Angiograms are generally safe and relatively painless, although some people may experience discomfort or mild pain during the procedure.

People may feel a slight pinch or burning sensation due to the local anesthetic injection. They may also feel pressure as the doctor inserts the catheter and moves it through the blood vessels.

When the doctor injects the contrast dye, people may feel a warm sensation or flush, which is a normal reaction to the dye. Some people may experience a metallic taste in their mouth or a feeling of nausea.

After discharge from the hospital, people should avoid strenuous activities, heavy lifting, and anything else that could strain the insertion site.

Doctors may also advise people to avoid soaking in water, such as bathing or swimming, until the insertion site has completely healed.

After the procedure, it is normal to experience some mild soreness or bruising at the insertion site. People can use an over-the-counter pain reliever, such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen, to manage discomfort.

A person should be able to resume their usual activities 8–12 hours after the procedure.

While angiograms are generally safe and have a low risk of complications, the procedure does have some potential risks and side effects.

Minor complications can include an infection at the incision site, which a doctor may treat using antibiotics, and a reaction to the contrast agent. This can cause an itchy rash that a doctor can treat with medication.

More serious side effects may include:

  • kidney damage, which is typically temporary
  • stroke
  • heart attack
  • blood vessel damage
  • a serious allergic reaction to the contrast agent

After the angiogram, a radiologist or other healthcare professional who specializes in interpreting medical images will analyze the results. They will review the X-ray images and other test results to look for any abnormalities or signs of disease.

If a brain aneurysm is present, the angiogram will show its size, shape, and location, as well as the surrounding blood vessels. This information will help the doctor determine the best course of treatment, which may include medications, surgery, or other interventions.

A normal angiogram result indicates that there are no abnormalities or blockages in the blood vessels that the healthcare team examined.

However, a normal angiogram does not necessarily mean a person has no underlying health conditions. Diagnostic tests may be necessary to rule out other possible causes of symptoms or confirm a diagnosis.

A person should contact a doctor immediately if they experience any of the following symptoms after the procedure:

  • bleeding from the insertion site that does not stop or becomes more severe
  • pain or swelling at the insertion site that worsens over time
  • symptoms of infection, such as fever, chills, redness, or drainage from the insertion site
  • chest pain or difficulty breathing
  • weakness, numbness, or tingling in the limbs or other parts of the body
  • severe headache or dizziness
  • changes in vision or speech

People should seek medical attention for any concerns or questions about recovery. A doctor can evaluate symptoms and determine whether further testing or treatment is necessary to address any issues that arise during angiogram recovery.

An angiogram is a medical imaging test that uses X-rays and a contrast dye to produce detailed images of blood vessels in the body.

By injecting the contrast dye into the bloodstream and taking X-ray images, doctors can see whether there are any abnormalities or blockages in the blood vessels.

An angiogram can show the size and location of an aneurysm and help the doctor determine the best course of treatment.