Coronary angiography (an-jee-OG-rah-fee) is a test that uses dye and special x rays to show the insides of your coronary arteries. The coronary arteries supply oxygen-rich blood to your heart.
A waxy substance called plaque (plak) can build up inside the coronary arteries. The buildup of plaque in the coronary arteries is called coronary heart disease (CHD).
Over time, plaque can harden or rupture (break open). Hardened plaque narrows the coronary arteries and reduces the flow of oxygen-rich blood to the heart. This can cause chest pain or discomfort called angina (an-JI-nuh or AN-juh-nuh).
If the plaque ruptures, a blood clot can form on its surface. A large blood clot can mostly or completely block blood flow through a coronary artery. This is the most common cause of a heart attack. Over time, ruptured plaque also hardens and narrows the coronary arteries.
A procedure called cardiac catheterization (KATH-eh-ter-ih-ZA-shun), or heart cath, is used to get the dye into the coronary arteries.
For this procedure, a thin, flexible tube called a catheter is put into a blood vessel in your arm, groin (upper thigh), or neck. The tube is threaded into your coronary arteries, and the dye is released into your bloodstream. X-ray pictures are taken while the dye is flowing through the coronary arteries.
Dr. Khan usually does heart caths in a hospital. You’re awake during the procedure, and it causes little or no pain. However, you may feel some soreness in the blood vessel where the catheter was inserted.
Cardiac catheterization rarely causes serious complications.
Your doctor may recommend coronary angiography / heart cath if you have:
A heart cath also might be done on an emergency basis, such as during a heart attack. If angiography shows blockages in your coronary arteries, your doctor may do a procedure called angioplasty (AN-jee-oh-plas-tee). This procedure can open blocked heart arteries and prevent further heart damage.
Coronary angiography also can help your doctor plan treatment after you’ve had a heart attack, especially if you have major heart damage or if you’re still having chest pain.
During coronary angiography / heart cath, you’re kept on your back and awake. This allows you to follow your doctor’s instructions during the test. You’ll be given medicine to help you relax. The medicine might make you sleepy.
Dr. Khan will numb the area on the arm, groin (upper thigh), or neck where the catheter will enter your blood vessel. Then, he or she will use a needle to make a small hole in the blood vessel. The catheter will be inserted in the hole.
Next, your doctor will thread the catheter through the vessel and into the coronary arteries. Special x-ray movies are taken of the catheter as it’s moved into the heart. The movies help your doctor see where to place the tip of the catheter.
Once the catheter is properly placed, your doctor will inject a special type of dye into the tube. The dye will flow through your coronary arteries, making them visible on an x ray. This x ray is called an angiogram.
If the angiogram reveals blocked arteries, your doctor may use coronary angioplasty to restore blood flow to your heart.
After your doctor completes the procedure(s), he or she will remove the catheter from your body. The opening left in the blood vessel will then be closed up and bandaged.
A small sandbag or other type of weight might be placed on the bandage to apply pressure. This will help prevent major bleeding from the site.
The animation below shows the process of coronary angiography. Click the “start” button to play the animation. Written and spoken explanations are provided with each frame. Use the buttons in the lower right corner to pause, restart, or replay the animation, or use the scroll bar below the buttons to move through the frames.
After a heart cath, you’ll be moved to a special care area in the hospital. You’ll be carefully watched for several hours or overnight. During this time, you’ll need to limit your movement to avoid bleeding from the site where the catheter was inserted.
While you recover in the special care area, nurses will check your heart rate and blood pressure regularly. They’ll also watch for any bleeding at the catheter insertion site.
You may develop a small bruise on your arm, groin (upper thigh), or neck at the catheter insertion site. That area may feel sore or tender for about a week. Let your doctor know if you develop problems such as:
Your doctor will tell you whether you should avoid certain activities, such as heavy lifting, for a short time after the test.
Coronary angiography or heart cath is a common medical test. It rarely causes serious problems. However, complications can include:
Other, less common complications include:
As with any procedure involving the heart, complications can sometimes be fatal. However, this is rare with coronary angiography.
The risk of complications is higher in people who are older and in those who have certain diseases or conditions (such as chronic kidney disease and diabetes).
For further information please contact Cardiac Center of Texas at 972-529-6939 or send us a question through the patient portal under the Patients tab at the top of the page. Thank you for visiting CardiacCenterOfTexas.com.