What Is the Procedure for an Angiogram?

C. Webb

An angiogram is a medical procedure typically used to view the blood vessels to the heart. It is used to detect conditions of the heart and the blood vessels leading to and from the heart. The patient usually stays awake during the angiogram procedure, though medication to relax the patient may be given. Treatment of issues including coronary blockage can be done during the procedure.

An angiogram is an X-ray used to see how blood is flowing through the blood vessels.
An angiogram is an X-ray used to see how blood is flowing through the blood vessels.

The procedure for an angiogram requires the patient to lie flat on his or her back before, during, and after the test. It is important to remain in a prone position during the test so it can be properly performed. Following the test, lying flat provides significant time to heal from the incisions needed for the test. The time frame for the actual test is about 30 minutes; however, the entire procedure for an angiogram, including recovery at the medical facility, is approximately three to four hours.

An angiogram may be used to perform artery repairs using balloon angioplasty or stent placement.
An angiogram may be used to perform artery repairs using balloon angioplasty or stent placement.

Once the patient is sedated enough to relax, but still able to follow the doctor's instructions, an incision is made near an artery, either in the upper thigh or the neck. A small tube made of plastic is then inserted into the opening and snaked through the artery toward the heart. The procedure for an angiogram requires an expert trained in this test to prevent complications from occurring.

Stitches are used to close incisions in the leg and neck during an angiogram.
Stitches are used to close incisions in the leg and neck during an angiogram.

The tube being threaded toward the heart through the artery has a small camera attached to it. It provides live images of the arteries and the heart chamber. The technician performing the test examines the video of the passage to know where the catheter needs to be placed inside the heart.

Once the catheter has made its way through the body and is in the heart, it releases a radioactive contrast dye. The dye spreads as the heart muscles and arteries perform their duties. Images and x-rays are taken to determine whether the arteries are blocked or the heart is malfunctioning. If blockages are viewed, they can typically be corrected during the procedure for an angiogram using angioplasty.

The catheter is then threaded back out of the heart and the blood vessels until it exits the body. Stitches are used to close the incision in the leg or neck. The patient is instructed to lie flat for several hours to give the artery and incision time to begin healing. Once released from the hospital following a procedure for an angiogram, patients are typically told to take it easy for several days, then slowly resume activities.

X-rays may be taken to determine whether a person's heart is malfunctioning.
X-rays may be taken to determine whether a person's heart is malfunctioning.

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