Coronary Angiography

If you have chest pain, heart failure, or blood vessel problems, your health care provider may recommend coronary angiography. Coronary angiography is a procedure used to look for plaque or blood clots in the blood vessels of your heart.

Plaque is a fatty substance that builds up on the walls of your blood vessels. It can limit how much blood flows to your heart muscle. If a piece of plaque breaks free, a blood clot can form, making it harder for your blood to flow freely.  Both problems can cause chest pain and other symptoms.

Angiography can help your provider figure out if you need treatment, such as medications or surgery, to cure or control your symptoms.

Before the Procedure

Before the procedure, you may have a physical exam, blood tests, or other kinds of tests. You'll be asked to not eat or drink for at least eight hours before your appointment.

If you're a woman, be sure to tell your health care provider if you are pregnant or might be pregnant. Tell your health care provider about all of the medications and supplements you take, if you have any allergies, if you've ever had an allergic reaction to dye or iodine, it's especially important to tell your provider.

Your provider will explain what happens during the procedure. He or she will also talk with you about any risks or complications that may happen.

You'll be asked to sign a consent form that gives your health care provider permission to do the procedure. Read the form carefully and ask questions if anything is not clear.

What to expect

On the day of your coronary angiography, you'll be asked to change into a hospital gown and be taken to a special room in the hospital called the "cath lab." There, you'll lie on a table, and be given IV medication to help you relax. You'll be awake during the procedure, but very drowsy.

Your provider will numb the place on your body where the catheter will be inserted, but you may feel some discomfort.

Next, your provider will make a cut or incision in your arm or groin. He or she will put the catheter into your blood vessel and move it to your heart using a special X-ray.

Your provider may inject dye into your blood stream to better see your blood vessels on the X-ray.  The dye can show where plaque or blood clots may be blocking blood flow.

If a problem area is identified, it may be treated before your provider removes the catheter and tools.

The whole procedure may take as little as thirty minutes. If treatment is done at the same time, it might take several hours.

After the Procedure

After your provider removes the catheter, you'll go to a recovery room. If the catheter was inserted into your leg, you'll need to lie down and keep your leg straight for a few hours.

You shouldn't drive for at least 24 hours after you've had the procedure, so plan to have a friend or family member drive you home from the hospital. If a blockage is treated, you may spend the night in the hospital.

Your provider will put a bandage on your skin where the catheter was inserted to help it heal and to prevent bleeding. You can take the bandage off the next day. It's normal to have some bruising or swelling around the catheter site, but seek treatment right away if you have new or worsening swelling, bruising, or any bleeding.

Wait a week or so after your coronary angiography before you go back to your normal routine.

Things to Remember

You may have coronary angiography to help find and treat problems with the blood vessels in your heart.
During angiography, your provider will insert a long, thin tube into a blood vessel in your arm, leg, or neck and guide it to your heart with the help of X-rays.
You will need to have someone take you home after your procedure.

What we Have Learned

Coronary angiography can detect problems with your blood vessels in the heart. True or False? The answer is true. This procedure is the gold standard test to look at the inside of blood vessels.

Coronary angiography is completely safe and never causes any complications. True or False? The answer is false. Although this test is very common and is usually safe, in rare cases, complications may develop.