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What are Angiograms?

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  • Written By: J. Beam
  • Edited By: Niki Foster
  • Last Modified Date: 16 November 2016
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Simply put, angiograms are x-ray images of blood vessels in the body. Referred to as either angiograms or arteriograms, the x-ray images allow a doctor to determine whether a blood vessel is blocked, constricted, malformed, or otherwise obstructed or damaged. The procedure by which angiograms are obtained is called angiography.

Angiograms are often requested by a doctor when MRI technology does not reveal a suspected problem. The procedure involves the insertion of a small, flexible tube, or a catheter, into the blood vessel. A water-soluble dye which shows up on angiograms is then injected into the blood vessel, allowing the doctor to see how the blood is flowing through the blood vessel.

Angiograms are commonly used to check blood flow to the brain, the heart, the kidneys, and the legs. In most cases, angiography can be performed on an outpatient basis. The doctor will give his or her patient instructions prior to the procedure, but little preparation is necessary. Most people are told not to eat or drink anything after midnight the day before the scheduled test.

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Prior to the procedure, a doctor will administer a local anesthetic before inserting the catheter. The catheter is then placed in the blood vessel, or vessels, to be x-rayed and the dye is inserted. Angiograms are obtained in a series of images so that the exact location of blockage or malformation can be located. The procedure may take about an hour, then the patient may be observed for a period of time to be sure they have no reaction to the dye and there is no bleeding from the injection site.

There are some risks associated with angiograms, such as blood clots, allergic reaction to the dye, and artery damage, but how these risks apply to each patient will vary and should be discussed with one's doctor. Angiograms can reveal information regarding blood vessels and blood flow that help doctors treat specific medical problems. In some cases, it may be necessary to surgically repair the blood vessel. Surgical repair of a blood vessel is called angioplasty.

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