An angiogram is a type of X-ray that can help doctors look for problems with blood vessels located in various parts of the body, including the brain, heart, abdomen or legs. An angiogram is used to determine whether the blood vessels are experiencing problems including blockages, narrowed areas, malformations or enlargements. Doctors also can look at arteries (arteriogram) or veins (venogram).

A special dye highlights the blood vessels being studied. The dye or contrast material makes the blood flowing through your vessels visible on the X-ray. Your kidneys will eliminate the dye from your body after the procedure is completed.

Preparing for an angiogram

You may need lab tests to analyze the blood clots and determine the health of your kidneys before the angiogram. You may need to stop taking certain medications like aspirin, blood thinners or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications since they can affect how your blood clots. Tell your doctor about any medications you take including over-the-counter, vitamins and herbal medicines.

Your doctor may request that you drink extra fluids before the angiogram. Sometimes your doctor will tell you not to have anything to eat or drink for at least six hours before the procedure. Follow instructions closely to ensure the most accurate results.

Tell your doctor if you have any allergies, including contrast dye, iodine or shellfish. People with these types of allergies may need medicine to lessen the risk of allergic reaction to the dye.

During an angiogram

Angiograms are performed in a room that has an X-ray machine. You will be administered an IV that provides fluids and medications. You may be given a medication to help you relax during the procedure.

Depending on what part of the body is being examined, an angiographic catheter (a special, long, thin tube) will be inserted into an artery, usually in the groin or the elbow. The area will be numbed using a local anesthetic before the catheter is inserted. 

Once the catheter is in place, the special dye is injected to highlight the area being studied. The X-ray images are projected onto a screen so your doctor can watch the blood vessels in action. You may feel a brief warming sensation throughout your body from the dye. This shouldn’t last too long (usually about 20 seconds). You also may feel the urge to urinate. A few people have a feeling of nausea. 

Angiograms generally take about an hour to complete. However, if your doctor finds a blockage that can be treated at the same time, it will take longer. This type of procedure is called an angioplasty.

Generally, an angiogram is considered to be a safe procedure. There are some risks including bleeding, swelling and pain. The area where the catheter was inserted may feel numb or cool. Rare complications include kidney problems and allergic reactions to the dye. 

After an angiogram

When the angiogram is finished, the catheter is removed and pressure is applied for 10 to 20 minutes to the area where it was inserted. This pressure will help stop the bleeding. 

You will be moved to a recovery area where nurses will monitor your blood pressure, heart rate and check the area for bleeding. You will be asked to drink a lot of fluids to help flush the dye from your body. 

You are allowed to go home once your medical team is sure that the bleeding has stopped and your vital signs are normal. You will need someone to drive you home. 
At home you should continue to drink extra fluids for the next few days. You should be able to eat normally. For the first 12 hours after you get home, avoid driving and strenuous physical activity.

To learn more, talk with your doctor or call (866) 358-4DOC for a free referral to a physician near you.