What Is Coronary Angiography?
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.
During coronary angiography, special dye is released into the bloodstream. The dye makes the coronary arteries visible on x-ray pictures. This helps doctors see blockages in the arteries.
A procedure called cardiac catheterization (KATH-eh-ter-ih-ZA-shun) 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.
Cardiologists (heart specialists) usually do cardiac catheterization 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.
Who Needs Coronary Angiography?
Your doctor may recommend coronary angiography if you have:
- Angina. This is unexplained pain or pressure in your chest. You also may feel it in your shoulders, arms, neck, jaw, or back. The pain my even feel like indigestion.
- Survived a sudden cardiac arrest (SCA). This is a condition in which your heart suddenly and unexpectedly stops beating.
- Abnormal results from tests such as an EKG (electrocardiogram), exercise stress test, or other test.
Coronary angiography 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.