A coronary angiography is a test that doctors use to look at the coronary arteries. A coronary angiography may help diagnose certain heart conditions.

The coronary arteries bring oxygenated blood to the heart. A doctor uses a coronary angiogram to check for narrowed or blocked coronary arteries or assess the structure and anatomy of the coronary arteries.

If a person has blocked coronary arteries, they may be at risk of developing coronary heart disease (CHD), angina, or heart failure. Blocked coronary arteries can also cause a person to have a heart attack.

This article will explain what a coronary angiography is, why doctors use it, and what the test involves.

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An angiogram is a type of diagnostic test doctors use to detect blockages in a person’s arteries. According to the Society for Vascular Surgery, angiograms are the gold standard in testing for blockages.

Traditionally, angiograms use X-rays and dye that a doctor injects into a person’s blood vessels. A person will typically receive a sedative during a angiogram.

During the angiogram, a doctor can gather information to determine if a person’s arteries are blocked and if so, how best to treat them.

Doctors can also perform angiograms noninvasively using computer tomography (CT) scans to look at a person’s blood vessels. However, this approach is not as accurate, and a CT scan has the same amount of radiation exposure that a person would receive from 50 standard X-rays.

Doctors can insert devices into the arteries that enable the doctor to gather more visual information, either using ultrasound or near-infrared light. Intravascular ultrasound (IVUS) and optical coherence tomography (OCT), are techniques that doctors now use to assist a diagnosis.

A doctor can also treat certain blockages in a person’s arteries during the angiogram. Two common treatment procedures during an angiogram are:

Balloon angioplasties

A balloon angioplasty involves a surgeon inserting a deflated balloon into the blocked area of a person’s artery.

Once the balloon is in place, the cardiologist inflates the balloon, widening the opening and flattening the plaque. The cardiologist then deflates the balloon and removes it from the person’s artery.

Stent placements

Following a balloon angioplasty, a cardiologist may put a stent in place. A stent is a wire mesh tube that is used to hold a narrow or blocked artery open.

A coronary angiography is a type of angiogram that doctors use to look at a person’s coronary arteries.

During a coronary angiography, a doctor will take X-rays of a person’s coronary arteries to look for narrowing or blockages.

Blockages within the arteries can occur due to blood clots or deposits of plaque. Plaque is made from:

  • cholesterol
  • fatty substances
  • cellular waste
  • calcium
  • fibrin, a clotting material in the blood

Coronary angiographies help a doctor diagnose a person with various heart conditions. According to the United Kingdom’s National Health Service (NHS), coronary angiographies can diagnose:

A doctor may use a coronary angiography after a person has a heart attack to locate the blockage. A doctor may also find it useful to perform a coronary angiography before the following procedures:

The NHS considers coronary angiographies to be the best method for a doctor to diagnose CHD.

Statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) state that CHD is the most common type of heart disease. Approximately 6.7% of adults aged 20 or older in the United States have CHD.

A cardiologist will perform a coronary angiography in a hospital or specialized clinic. A cardiologist is a doctor that specializes in the treatment of heart conditions.

A cardiologist will perform a coronary angiography while a person is awake. However, the cardiologist will give the person medication to help them relax. The coronary angiography will then proceed as follows:

  1. The person lies down on a table.
  2. The cardiologist numbs an area on the person’s arm, groin, or neck with local anesthetic.
  3. Using X-rays as a guide, the cardiologist inserts a catheter into the person’s artery at the site they numbed. A catheter is long, thin, flexible tube. A person may feel slight pressure as the cardiologist inserts the catheter.
  4. The cardiologist pushes the catheter along until it reaches the coronary arteries.
  5. The cardiologist injects a contrast dye into the catheter to allow the arteries to show up on an X-ray.
  6. The cardiologist will then take X-rays of the person’s heart and study the images for blockages.
  7. If the cardiologist locates any blockages in the person’s coronary arteries, they may perform an angioplasty.

Once the cardiologist has finished the coronary angiography, they will remove the catheter.

The cardiologist, or a nurse, will then apply pressure to the area where they inserted the catheter. Applying pressure to the area helps the cardiologist ensure there is no internal bleeding. Sometimes a plug is used.

Following a coronary angiography, a person will rest at the hospital for a few hours.

While resting, a person will need to limit their movement. The cardiologist will monitor a person’s blood pressure and heart rate during this time.

After the coronary angiography

After a coronary angiography is complete, a person will need a ride home due to the effects of medication and anesthesia.

A doctor may advise a person not to bathe for a day or two after their procedure and not lift heavy objects for at least a week.

A person may develop pain or bruising in the area where the doctor inserted the catheter. However, if a person experiences any of the following symptoms, they should seek immediate medical attention:

  • swelling at the site of the catheter insertion that worsens over time
  • excessive bleeding
  • circulation problems in the limbs

CT angiography is another diagnostic test that doctors may use to look at a person’s blood vessels.

During a CT angiography, a doctor takes multiple X-rays of a person’s body. Taking multiple X-rays allows the doctor to build a more detailed image of a person’s blood vessels compared with a coronary angiography.

A CT angiography also allows the doctor to see the person’s blood vessel structure in two or three dimensions.

CT angiographies are noninvasive, and carry fewer risks than coronary angiographies. CT angiographies can still cause certain side effects, including:

  • a slight chance of cancer due to radiation exposure later in life
  • an allergic reaction to the contrast dye
  • kidney damage
  • damage to skin, blood vessels, or nerves

Although coronary angiographies are unlikely to cause a person any serious side effects, possible complications include:

  • bleeding
  • allergic reaction to the contrast dye
  • infection
  • blood vessel damage
  • irregular heartbeat
  • blood clots
  • kidney damage
  • fluid buildup around the heart
  • a small risk of stroke or heart attack

At present, coronary angiographies are the standard when it comes to the accurate diagnosis of coronary heart disease. Although CT angiographies are less invasive and costly, they provide lower quality images and produce false positive results at a higher rate.

Coronary angiography is a type of angiogram. A doctor uses a coronary angiography to check if a person has narrow or blocked coronary arteries.

Coronary angiographies involve a doctor using contrast dye to highlight a person’s coronary arteries. The doctor will then take X-rays of the person’s coronary arteries to look for any blockages.

Doctors can use coronary angiographies to diagnose various heart conditions. Coronary angiographies are helpful for a doctor to consult before certain surgical treatments or to place stents for blockages.

A doctor may also use CT scans to locate blockages in a person’s coronary arteries.

Generally, a coronary angiography will cause a person only minor pain and bruising.

If a person notices excessive bleeding, swelling that gets worse, or circulation problems after the procedure, they should seek immediate medical attention.