What is angiography?

Quick Answer
The x-ray analysis of the cardiovascular system following the injection of a radiopaque contrast dye into an artery
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Indications and Procedures

Angiography (also called arteriography) is a procedure utilized for the detection of abnormalities in arteries of the heart, brain, or other organs. The procedure is carried out when symptoms suggest the narrowing or blockage of an artery, most frequently in the heart or brain. Such symptoms include chest pain or similarly associated discomfort in the region of the stomach or left side of the body. Even if pain is absent, shortness of breath may indicate a cardiac or pulmonary problem. Slurred speech or vision may likewise suggest narrowing of an artery in the brain. Angiography can therefore indicate the likelihood of a heart attack or stroke, as well as other problems which may produce similar symptoms, such as blood clots or cancer.

The patient must avoid food or drink for approximately eight hours prior to the procedure. A catheter is inserted through the skin, usually in the groin area, and placed into the artery to be examined. A sedative is not necessary, although it may be given to the patient to aid in relaxation.

Once the catheter is in place, a radiopaque dye is injected, and x-ray photographs of the area in question are taken. The procedure generally takes about three hours.

Uses and Complications

Since any blockage or narrowing of an artery will result in accumulation of the radiopaque dye, the radiologist can pinpoint the site of the block. Based on the symptoms, the physician can discuss the diagnosis and recommend further procedures.

The most common complication associated with angiography is the mild discomfort resulting from insertion of the catheter. The dye itself may cause a slight burning sensation, and on rare occasions it may trigger an allergic response. In 1 to 2 percent of cases, more serious complications develop. If the blockage results from an atherosclerotic plaque or from a blood clot, in rare circumstances a piece of this material may break off and lodge elsewhere in the arterial system. The result can be a stroke or heart attack.


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