Coronary angiography is a procedure that uses a special dye (contrast material) and x-rays to see how blood flows through the arteries in your heart.
Coronary angiography is often done along with cardiac catheterization. This is a procedure which measures pressures in the heart chambers.
Before the test starts, you will be given a mild sedative to help you relax.
An area of your body (the arm or groin) is cleaned and numbed with a local numbing medicine (anesthetic). The cardiologist passes a thin hollow tube, called a catheter, through an artery and carefully moves it up into the heart. X-ray images help the doctor position the catheter.
Once the catheter is in place, dye (contrast material) is injected into the catheter. X-ray images are taken to see how the dye moves through the artery. The dye helps highlight any blockages in blood flow.
The procedure most often lasts 30 to 60 minutes.
You should not eat or drink anything for 8 hours before the test starts. You may need to stay in the hospital the night before the test. Otherwise, you will check in to the hospital the morning of the test.
You will wear a hospital gown. You must sign a consent form before the test. Your health care provider will explain the procedure and its risks.
Tell your provider if you:
In most cases, you will be awake during the test. You may feel some pressure at the site where the catheter is placed.
You may feel a flushing or warm sensation after the dye is injected.
After the test, the catheter is removed. You might feel a firm pressure being applied at the insertion site to prevent bleeding. If the catheter is placed in your groin, you will be asked to lie flat on your back for a few hours to several hours after the test to avoid bleeding. This may cause some mild back discomfort.
Coronary angiography may be done if:
There is a normal supply of blood to the heart and no blockages.
An abnormal result may mean you have a blocked artery. The test can show how many coronary arteries are blocked, where they are blocked, and the severity of the blockages.
Cardiac catheterization carries a slightly increased risk when compared with other heart tests. However, the test is very safe when performed by an experienced team.
Generally, the risk for serious complications ranges from 1 in 1,000 to 1 in 500. Risks of the procedure include the following:
Considerations associated with any type of catheterization include the following:
If a blockage is found, your provider may perform a percutaneous coronary intervention (PCI) to open the blockage. This can be done during the same procedure, but may be delayed for various reasons.
Reviewed By: Michael A. Chen, MD, PhD, Associate Professor of Medicine, Division of Cardiology, Harborview Medical Center, University of Washington Medical School, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.