Angiography is a type of X-ray used to check the blood vessels.
Blood vessels don’t show up clearly on a normal X-ray, so a special dye needs to be injected into your blood first.
This highlights your blood vessels, allowing your doctor to spot any problems.
The X-ray images created during angiography are called “angiograms”.
Why angiograms are used
Angiography is used to check the health of your blood vessels and how blood flows through them.
It can be used to help diagnose or investigate a number of problems affecting the blood vessels, including:
- atherosclerosis (narrowing of the arteries), which could mean you’re at risk of having a stroke or heart attack
- peripheral arterial disease (reduced blood supply to the leg muscles)
- a brain aneurysm (a bulge in a blood vessel in your brain)
- angina (chest pain that occurs when the blood supply to the heart muscle is restricted)
- blood clots or a pulmonary embolism (a blockage in the artery supplying your lungs)
- a blockage in the blood supply to your kidneys
Angiography may also be used to help plan treatment for some of these conditions.
What happens during angiography
Angiography is carried out in a hospital X-ray or radiology department.
For the test:
- you’ll usually be awake, but may be given a medication called a sedative to help you relax
- you lie down on a table and a small cut is made over one of your arteries, usually near your groin or wrist – local anaesthetic is used to numb the area where the cut is made
- a very thin flexible tube (catheter) is inserted into the artery
- the catheter is carefully guided to the area that’s being examined (such as the heart)
- a dye (contrast medium) is injected into the catheter
- a series of X-rays are taken as the dye flows through your blood vessels
The test can take between 30 minutes and two hours. You’ll usually be able to go home a few hours afterwards.
Read more about what happens before, during and after angiography.
Risks of an angiogram
Angiography is generally a safe and painless procedure.
But for a few days or weeks afterwards it’s common to have:
- a very small lump or collection of blood near where the cut was made
There is also a very small risk of more serious complications occurring, such as an allergic reaction to the dye, a stroke or a heart attack.
Read more about the risks of angiography.
Types of angiogram
There are several different types of angiogram, depending on which part of the body is being looked at.
Common types include:
- coronary angiography – to check the heart and nearby blood vessels
- cerebral angiography – to check the blood vessels in and around the brain
- pulmonary angiography – to check the blood vessels supplying the lungs
- renal angiography – to check the blood vessels supplying the kidneys
There is also a type of angiography used to check the eyes called a fluorescein angiogram. This is different to the angiograms mentioned above and isn’t covered in this topic.