Also called an angiogram, angiography is the most common procedure used to diagnose and treat heart and vascular conditions. Angiograms are part of a general group of procedures known as cardiac (heart) catheterization. 

About the Procedure

Considered the gold standard for evaluating blockages in the arterial system by the Society of Vascular Surgery, an angiogram is an X-ray procedure used to detect blockages and other blood vessel problems. 

An angiogram can show how many of your coronary arteries are blocked or narrowed, pinpoint where the blockages are located and show to what extent blood flow is restricted. This procedure may also be used to evaluate the results of a previous coronary bypass surgery. 

During the angiogram, the doctor inserts a thin tube (catheter) into the artery through a small incision in the skin about the size of the tip of a pencil. A substance called a contrast agent (X-ray dye) is injected to make the blood vessels visible on the X-ray. 

Medication may be given to help make a patient more comfortable, but he or she will remain awake throughout the procedure. The area where the catheter is inserted will be numbed. Patients may feel slight pressure as the catheter is inserted and some chest discomfort as the dye is administered.

In many cases, the vascular interventionalists can treat a blocked blood vessel without surgery at the same time the angiogram is performed. They treat blockages with techniques called angioplasty and stent placement.

Depending on how difficult the test is and how much treatment is needed, the procedure typically takes between 30 minutes and 2 hours. Patients can generally go home the same day. 

Why Angiography May be Recommended

Your doctor may recommend an angiogram if you have any of the following symptoms:

  • Unexplained pain in your chest, neck or arm
  • New or increasing chest pain
  • Heart defect present since birth, such as congenital heart disease
  • Symptoms of coronary artery disease, such as chest pain
  • Abnormal results from a non-invasive heart stress test
  • Injury to the chest
  • Heart valve problem that requires surgery
  • Other blood vessel problems

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