How Does an Angiogram Work & Is it Painful to Have an Angiogram?

An angiogram is performed to detect blockages in the blood vessels that obstruct the blood supply to different body parts. To perform this angiogram a small flexible tube called catheter is inserted into a blood vessel in the patient’s arm or thigh or even groin under local anesthesia. A small amount of iodine dye is injected into the catheter which travels through the blood vessels. The dye becomes visible under x-ray camera and shows the blood flow through the blood vessels and records the location of blockages if any. The angiogram can also record the size and shape of the blockages.

How Does an Angiogram Work?

An angiogram is performed in a specially designed room called angiography suite. Angiogram is done by a team of doctors. Before the procedure, the patient has to remove any kind of jewelry and change into a surgical gown. The procedure is carried out in following steps:

  • The patient is asked to lie down comfortably on the table provided.
  • The patient is usually awake and given a mild sedative for relaxation during angiogram.
  • After the patient is relaxed, local anesthesia is given in the groin or upper leg, in the arm or wrist.
  • As the procedure begins an intravenous line (IV) is inserted in the vein of the patient’s arm. This is done so that the doctor can give any other medications or fluid if needed.
  • The patient’s heartbeat, breathing, oxygen level, blood pressure and all other important functions are monitored during the angiogram test.
  • A cut is made over one of the patient’s arteries usually near the groin or inside of the elbow or even wrist according to the need to insert the angiogram catheter.
  • The catheter is then carefully guided into the area that has to be examined (such as heart, lungs, brain and so on).
  • The iodine dye is then injected into the catheter.
  • As the dye flows through the blood vessels, series of X-rays are done.
  • When X-ray images are being taken, the patient may be asked to keep still so that the images come clear.

The whole angiogram procedure can take between 30 minutes to 2 hours depending on the area to be examined and the patient’s general health.

Is it Painful to Have an Angiogram?

Although the patient is kept awake, the whole procedure is carried out under local anesthesia. The doctor uses a needle to inject the local anesthetic to numb the area to insert the catheter. Thus, the needle prick is the only pain the patient might feel during the whole process. Apart from this, an angiogram is typically painless. Although the angiogram catheter is guided through the arteries to the area to be examined, the patient does not feel it as there are no nerves in the arteries.

Points to Remember

  • Everyone gets a bit of bruising when an incision is made in an artery. This may take some time to resolve. If the bruise is severe or bleeding occurs, the doctor should be consulted.
  • The patient might feel some warmth in the area where the iodine dye is put in. Although, this feeling lies just for few seconds.
  • The iodine dye so injected is eliminated out of the body through urine. Hence patient might be asked to drink fluids post angiogram.
  • An angiogram is usually carried out as a one-day procedure. However, if health problems or aftercare requirement is noticed, the patient might be asked to be admitted to the hospital overnight for observation.
  • There are no restrictions on the patient’s level of activity after 24 hours of the angiogram test unless stated otherwise.

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