Coronary (Heart) Angiogram or Arteriogram

What is a coronary angiogram or arteriogram?

A coronary angiogram, also known as a coronary arteriogram, is a special X-ray test where radio-opaque dye is injected through the coronary arteries of the heart. The test is used to detect any blockages in the coronary arteries, which may occur due to plaque (fatty deposits).

The procedure can help to determine:

  • How badly blocked the artery is.
  • If you need further treatment such as angioplasty, heart bypass surgery or medical therapy.

How it works

A coronary angiogram is one of the most basic catheterisation procedures for the heart. The structure of the heart vessels and arteries is usually not visible through X-ray.

During an angiogram, a catheter is threaded through an artery in the wrist or groin to reach the coronary arteries of your heart. A special X-ray visible dye is then injected into the catheter. The dye allows your doctor to take an X-ray image of the heart structure to find the existence and extent of blockages within your coronary arteries.

Why do you need a coronary angiogram?

Your doctor may request a coronary angiogram to:

  • Decide the most appropriate treatment for you by identifying any narrowing (stenosis) or blockage in the coronary arteries (coronary artery disease) or other heart diseases.
  • Plan a path before your scheduled coronary angioplasty (ballooning) to guide the procedure.
  • Check if your grafts are still open after coronary bypass surgery (open heart surgery).

What are the risks and complications of a coronary angiogram?

There are some risks involved in any invasive or minimally invasive procedure. Coronary angiograms are widely used and complications are low, occurring in less than 3% of patients.

Potential complications include:

  • Infection
  • Allergic reaction to the dye
  • Bleeding in the area of the catheter insertion
  • Air embolism (when air gets into the bloodstream, where it could cause damage)
  • Emergency coronary artery bypass grafting (CABG)
  • Abnormal heart rhythms
  • Damage to the arteries
  • Heart attack
  • Stroke
  • Death

The risk of complications is greater for people:

  • Over the age of 70
  • Who have conditions such as diabetes, hardening of the arteries and kidney failure
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