Coronary Angiography

What is an angiogram?

A coronary or cardiac angiogram is a special test used to obtain information about the coronary arteries and the functioning of the heart. It is also called 'cardiac catheterisation' or a 'dye test of the heart'.

Why do I need this test?

This test is performed to look for any narrowing in the coronary arteries (the blood vessels that take blood to the heart muscle). It is performed when narrowing or blockages are suspected because of angina pains or after heart attacks. ECG, stress echo and myocardial perfusion scans may suggest that there are narrowing or blockages but cannot show where these are, how severe they are or how many there are.


How is the test performed?

An angiogram is performed under local anaesthetic using either the artery at the top of the leg (the femoral artery) or the artery in the wrist (the radial artery). The procedure is performed on an x-ray table and you will be attached to an ECG to monitor the heart rhythm. Once the local anaesthetic has worked a long thin flexible tube (catheter) is inserted into through the arteries around to the heart. A dye is then injected into the coronary arteries, which can be seen on a television screen using special x-ray equipment.  The tubes in the body are not felt and the doctor will know where the tubes are from the x-ray. The table and x-ray machine will move from time to time during the procedure. As the catheter is inserted you may feel slight pressure where the doctor is working with the catheters but you will not feel the tubes inside your body. At times you may be asked to turn your head to one side or hold your breath.


How safe is an angiogram?

A cardiac angiogram is a safe procedure, though there are risks associated with any medical procedure. The decision to perform the angiogram will only have been made when it is felt that the benefits of knowing what the arteries look like far outweigh the small risks involved. Bruising is a coomon problem and usually minor. The serious risks are uncommon but can happen in up to 1 in 1000 cases. Your doctor will explain the possible risks and answer any questions you or your family have.

Will I be awake?

Most people are nervous to learn that they will be awake throughout the procedure. This is because you will need to follow some of the doctor's instructions. You should not experience any more than some mild discomfort at the very beginning of the test when the tube is inserted. If you have discomfort at any time then you must let the doctors and nurses know, so that this can be sorted out. If necessary a mild sedative can be given to help relax you. You will not normally experience anything as the dye is injected into the arteries. However, at the end of the test more dye is injected into the main pumping chamber of the heart, which can give the sensation of a hot flush briefly. The test usually takes 10 - 20 minutes to perform.


What happens after the procedure?

After the procedure you will return back to your bed where you will be monitored closely by the nursing staff. Your blood pressure will be checked and you may be attached to a cardiac monitor.

In most cases the site where the tube has been inserted in the artery in the leg is sealed with a collagen plug immediately after the procedure  - this plug then dissolves over time . This allows you to sit up quite soon. If this is not possible the tube at the top of your leg will be removed and pressure applied for 5 to 10 minutes to prevent bleeding A nurse will check the site from time to time and to stop the site from bleeding you will be asked to lie still for up to 4 hours. If the procedure was from the wrist a compression strap is put around the wrist to stop the bleeding and gradually released.

You will be able to eat and drink normally providing you do not feel sick and you will be encouraged to drink plenty of water to flush the dye out of your system.

Your doctor will discuss the results with you and you are encouraged to ask any questions about you future care with the doctors and nurses.

You should arrange to have someone take you home. If using public transport try to avoid walking up and down stairs as this may cause the wound site in your groin to bleed. You should not drive for 48 hours.

When will I get the results?

The doctor will discuss the results with you before you go home.

What will happen when I go home?

Someone should be at home with you overnight and you should not drive for 24 hours after the procedure. Avoid over use of the leg with strenuous exercise for 48 hours.


Please note:

Every effort has been made to ensure that the information on this website is up-to-date and accurate. However, it is intended to serve as a guide only. Symptoms may vary and if you have any medical concerns you should always consult a healthcare professional.