What is an angiogram?

An angiogram uses X-rays to evaluate the interior of your body’s blood vessels for blockage or diseased areas. There are three types of angiograms: 

  • Catheter angiogram  
  • CT (computed tomography) angiogram
  • MR (magnetic resonance angiography)  

CT and MR angiograms offer ways to find plaque and fatty deposits without an invasive catheterization procedure. The catheter angiogram, although invasive, produces the clearest images. Imaging and vascular experts at Ohio State use the latest techniques in angiogram. 

The traditional angiogram procedure is a catheter angiography. Contrast dye is injected through a catheter that’s inserted to blood vessels via the groin or arm. The contrast dye flows through your body’s vessels, which blocks the X-rays. The resulting images show the blood flow and allow your doctor to see blocked, malformed or damaged blood vessels.

Conditions treated

Your cardiologist can use an angiogram to diagnose a number of vascular conditions, including:  

During an angiogram, your physician may also treat your condition. He or she may decrease the amount of plaque, insert a stent or dissolve a clot. The angiogram provides your physician with vital information to diagnose and plan future treatments.

What to expect during an angiogram

Preparing for your procedure

Prior to an angiogram, you‘ll discuss with your physician your medical history, your medications and any questions you have. Tests that your physician may schedule before the angiogram depend on your condition and may include:  

  • Blood tests to establish your blood’s clotting ability  
  • Tests to determine your kidney function  

Do not eat or drink anything for six hours before your angiogram. Your physician will tell you if you should avoid aspirin or other medications before your test. Please bring all of your medications, including over-the-counter medications and herbal and dietary supplements, to the test with you.  

Make sure you tell your doctor if you’re pregnant, think you could be pregnant or are breastfeeding. 

During your procedure

As the test begins, you’ll receive a local anesthetic (numbing only the area of the test). Your physician inserts the catheter into an artery in your groin or arm and guides the wire to the targeted area. Then the contrast dye is released; you may feel flushed and warm from the dye, but the process shouldn’t cause pain. Your doctor takes the X-rays to reveal your artery or vein structure. For clear X-rays, you should remain still and will need to briefly hold your breath. Your doctor will walk you through each step of the process.

After your procedure

Your physician will monitor you for up to six hours. For the rest of the day, you should avoid strenuous physical activities, such as climbing stairs or walking. You should arrange to be driven home after your test. For the next few days, make sure you continue to drink extra fluids, which will help flush the dye from your body. 

Before you leave the hospital, you’ll receive a complete set of instructions regarding the site of your catheterization. Depending on the results of your tests, your physician may recommend lifestyle changes to prevent any heart conditions from getting worse. These lifestyle changes may include eating a heart-healthy diet, getting regular exercise and quitting smoking. In most cases, you should take it easy for two days after you return home from the procedure.

Caring for your catheter insertion site

Your incision site may be in your femoral artery (groin area) or your radial artery (arm). When you go home from the hospital, this site will be covered with a bandage. Here are some tips on caring for the wound:

  • Take the bandage off the morning after you return home from the hospital. The easiest way to remove the tape may be in the shower, under warm, running water.
  • After you’ve removed the bandage and patted the area dry with a clean cloth, cover the area with a small adhesive bandage (Band-Aid). You may notice some bruising, mild swelling and pink color around the skin at the wound site. This is normal. You may also notice a small, quarter-size lump at the wound site, which is also normal and will go away on its own with healing.
  • Once each day, use a washcloth to gently clean the wound site with water and antibacterial soap. Be gentle and don’t rub over the wound.
  • Outside of daily washing and showering, keep the wound site clean and dry.
  • Do not apply lotions, creams or ointments to the wound area.
  • Do not wear tight-fitting clothing (including undergarments) over the wound area.
  • Avoid taking a bath, soaking in a tub or Jacuzzi, or swimming in a pool for at least one week after the cath.

Your medications

Your doctor will review your medications with you before you leave the hospital. Be aware that they may change after you’ve undergone the angiogram. Ask questions if you’re unclear about what to take, when you’ll take it or the dosage. 

If you have diabetes, your doctor may adjust your diabetes medication for one or two days following your cath. Be sure to ask for specific directions about your diabetes medication.

Stay hydrated

You should drink eight to 10 glasses of clear fluids (water is preferred) to flush your body of the contrast material from the angiogram procedure. Drinking enough water is especially important in the days following your procedure, though you should always aim for eight glasses of water every day.

Ask your doctor about when you can:

  • Go back to work
  • Resume sexual activity
  • Start driving (usually within 24 hours after returning home)

Special instructions for femoral incision site

  • Avoid straining during bowel movements for the first three or four days after the procedure, as doing so could cause the cath insertion site to bleed.
  • Avoid lifting anything over 10 pounds, or pushing or pulling heavy objects, for a week after the procedure.
  • Avoid participating in strenuous activities, sports or exercise for five days after the procedure. (Activities to avoid include jogging, golfing, playing tennis or bowling.)
  • Take stairs slowly.
  • Slowly increase your activity level after you go home, returning to your normal activity level one week after your angiogram.

Special instructions for radial incision site

  • Avoid participating in strenuous activities, sports or exercise for two days after the procedure. (Activities to avoid include jogging, golfing, playing tennis or bowling.)
  • Slowly increase your activity level after you go home, returning to your normal activity level two days after your angiogram.

Angiogram recovery

In the days following your procedure, your heart surgeon will contact you and your primary care (or referring) doctor with the results of your angiogram. Check with your primary care doctor to see if you need a follow-up visit to discuss the results further or to make modifications to your health care plan.

Why choose Ohio State for an angiogram?

Vascular surgeons at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center are angiography experts. At the Ohio State Ross Heart Hospital here in Columbus, an entire wing of the fifth floor is devoted to catheter-based procedures.  

Our vascular surgeons are experts not only in performing catheterizations and angiograms, but also in treating blocked vessels that are identified with a variety of minimally invasive techniques. Often, this can be done at the same time as the diagnostic catheterization.

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