Understanding Cardiac Catheterization and Angiograms

Most heart disease is caused by atherosclerosis, a narrowing or blockage of the coronary arteries that convey blood to the heart. A test called an angiogram can show the degree of arterial blockage by enabling the healthcare provider to observe the blood flow to the heart through those arteries.

In an angiogram, a flexible catheter or tube is inserted into an artery, usually in the groin area, and guided through the arterial system into the heart and into the coronary arteries. A dye is then injected through the catheter into the bloodstream and x-rays of the heart and coronary arteries are taken.

Angiography is a very effective way to show how much of the blood flow to the heart is obstructed, but it is not without risks. Risks associated with cardiac catheterization and angiography include:

  • sensitivity to the dyes, which could lead to infection or allergic shock;
  • excessive post-procedure bleeding from the artery that was punctured when the catheter was inserted;
  • possible shock from blood loss;
  • stroke;
  • or kidney damage.

As with any other diagnostic procedure, the risks associated with angiography must be viewed in light of the benefits of being able to pinpoint a potentially life-threatening blockage in a coronary artery. For a person who experiences chest pain on exertion, has a family history of heart disease or has already had a heart attack, the benefits of an angiogram may be well worth the risks.

If you’ve been advised to have an angiogram, don’t hesitate to ask your healthcare provider to explain the procedure, including any potential risks or complications. Talking about it can help you understand what the test will show and how the healthcare provider will use the results to develop a treatment plan that’s appropriate for your medical needs.

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