Reasons for an angiogram
If your GP is concerned about the health of your heart and circulation, he/she will refer you to a specialist who will conduct a series of tests. These include:
- Blood and urine tests – to check for the presence of certain chemicals that illustrate the health of the heart
- Electrocardiogram (ECG) – to check the electrical activity of the heart. This produces the ‘heart trace’ that you will be familiar with, along with lots of other data
- Echocardiogram – to show the pumping action of the heart and its valves
If any of these shows a cause for concern you will be asked to go in to hospital for an angiogram to get a more accurate picture of what’s going on in your heart and blood vessels.
The angiogram procedure
Angiograms are usually done as a day case under local anaesthetic. You may be given a sedative to help you relax during the procedure, as you will need to lie as still as possible for up to forty-five minutes to help the radiologist to get clear images.
If you are taking any medication to thin your blood, such as warfarin or aspirin, your doctor will ask you to stop taking this a few days before the procedure.
Before the angiogram procedure you will usually have heart monitor pads placed on your chest and a blood pressure cuff placed on your arm. This is standard practice and is nothing to be concerned about. You will then have a local anaesthetic injected into your groin area where the doctor will enter your blood vessels. This may sting at first but will soon become numb.
The doctor will then insert a small tube into your femoral vein or artery (depending on which side of your heart or circulation they want to examine) and insert a guide wire into the vessel. This will be used to guide a thin tube, called a catheter, which will be used to deliver the dye accurately to the required area.
Although you will remain awake, you will not feel this moving inside your vessels, any more than you are aware of your blood as it pumps around. The technicians will then take a series of x-rays or short x-ray films as required.