A coronary angiogram is a cardiovascular procedure that is designed in an effort to help analyze the blood vessels of a patient’s heart. The testing protocol is done in order to ensure that there is no restriction or blockage of some kind that is impeding the full flow of blood going back to the heart, so that it might get pumped back out to the other areas of the body.
What is a Cardiac Catheterization?
Coronary angiograms are part of a general group of procedures known as heart (cardiac) catheterizations. Cardiac catheterization procedures can both diagnose and treat heart and blood vessel conditions. A coronary angiogram, which can help diagnose heart conditions, is the most common type of cardiac catheterization procedure. When a coronary angiogram is performed, a type of dye is injected into the blood vessels of the heart, so that it might become visible under an x-ray machine. The x-ray machine rapidly takes a series of images otherwise known as angiograms, offering a look at your blood vessels, if necessary your doctor can open the blogged heart arteries, angioplasty, when the coronary angiogram takes place.
Why is a Coronary Angiogram Performed?
Like any other cardiovascular testing method, your cardiologist will perform a coronary angiogram when a patient might exhibit certain types of symptoms or heart health issues they might be feeling. Generally if you show signs of any of the following:
- Symptoms of coronary artery disease, such as chest pain – otherwise known as angina.
- Pain within the chest, haw, neck or arm that cannot be explained as a result of any other tests.
- Unstable angina, new or increasing chest pain.
- A congenital heart defect.
- Abnormal results as a result of noninvasive stress testing.
- Other blood vessels problems or a chest injury.
- A heart valve issue that requires surgery, or some type of other physical issues with the heart.
Considering that there’s a small risk of complications, angiograms aren’t usually done until after noninvasive heart tests have been performed, such as an electrocardiogram, an echocardiogram or a stress test.
Preparing for Your Coronary Angiogram
In many cases, coronary angiograms can be performed as an emergency basis – more commonly however, they are generally scheduled in advanced – allowing patients the time they need to prepare. Angiograms are performed in the catheterization lab of a hospital. Your health care team will give you specific instructions and talk to you about any medications you take. General guidelines include:
- To avoid drinking or eating anything after midnight of the day of your angiogram.
- Take any and all medications you might need with you.
- For patients with diabetes, consult with your doctor before taking insulin or any other oral medication prior to your angiogram.
The Coronary Angiogram Procedure
During the coronary angiogram procedure, the patient is supposed to lie on their back on an x-ray table – often, the patients are strapped to the table, as it will likely be tilted at an angle across the legs and chest. X-ray cameras are generally moved over and around the head and chest area in order to allow the doctor to pictures from multiple different angles.
An IV line is inserted into a vein in the patient’s arm. Often, patients are given IV sedatives, so that they might be able to relax during their procedure. Electrodes on your chest monitor your heart throughout the procedure. A blood pressure cuff tracks your blood pressure and another device, a pulse oximeter, measures the amount of oxygen in your blood. A small amount of hair may be shaved from your groin or arm where a flexible tube (catheter) will be inserted. The area is washed and disinfected and then numbed with an injection of local anesthetic. A small incision is made at the entry site, and a short plastic tube (sheath) is inserted into your artery. The catheter is inserted through the sheath into your blood vessel and carefully threaded to your heart or coronary arteries.
Threading the catheter shouldn’t cause pain, and you shouldn’t feel it moving through your body. Tell your health care team if you have any discomfort. Dye (contrast material) is injected through the catheter. When this happens, you may have a brief sensation of flushing or warmth. But again, tell your health care team if you feel pain or discomfort. The dye is easy to see on X-ray images. As it moves through your blood vessels, your doctor can observe its flow and identify any blockages or constricted areas. Depending on what your doctor discovers during your angiogram, you may have additional catheter procedures at the same time, such as a balloon angioplasty or a stent placement to open up a narrowed artery. Other noninvasive tests, such as ultrasound, may help your doctor evaluate identified blockages. Having an angiogram takes about one hour, although it may be longer, especially if combined with other cardiac catheterization procedures. Preparation and post-procedure care can add more time. For more information on all there is to know about the coronary angiogram and other procedures, be sure to contact Dr. Kalafatic today.