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A coronary angiogram is a special x-ray of your heart. The purpose of this x-ray is to look for abnormalities of your heart muscle or heart valves, and to see if your coronary arteries are narrowed or blocked. Another term for coronary angiogram is cardiac catheterization.

 The test is done in a special laboratory called a cardiac catheterization laboratory (cath lab), which is similar to an operating theatre. A slender catheter (a thin, hollow plastic tube) is threaded through the largest artery in your body (the aorta) until it reaches the coronary arteries of the heart. A special contrast dye is injected and x-rays are taken of the blood vessels as the dye moves through them. 

Problems diagnosed by coronary angiogram

The heart receives its blood supply from the coronary arteries. If these arteries are narrowed or blocked, the heart is starved of sufficient oxygen and nutrients. The resulting pain is known as angina. Apart from diseased coronary arteries, an angiogram can also diagnose a range of heart problems including aneurysm (abnormal ballooning of the heart wall), heart arrhythmias (irregular heart beat) or birth defects, such as a hole in the heart.

Medical issues to consider

  • Before the procedure, you need to discuss a range of issues with your doctor including:
  • Medical history, including whether or not you have asthma, allergies or kidney disease.
  • If you have experienced allergic reactions to any drugs.
  • Any current medications you are taking. You may need to discontinue certain medications before the test, such as medications that thin the blood.
  • You need to fast four to six hours prior to your test.
  • You may undergo various tests before the angiogram, including blood tests, an electrocardiogram and chest x-rays.

Complications of a coronary angiogram

Some of the possible complications of a coronary angiogram include:

  • Allergic reaction to the contrast dye, including hives and itchy skin
  • Bleeding from the wound
  • Heart arrhythmia
  • Heart attack
  • Stroke.

Taking care of yourself at home

Be guided by your doctor, but general suggestions include:

  • Try to rest as much as you can.
  • Avoid standing for more than a few minutes at a time.
  • Avoid heavy lifting.
  • See your doctor if you suspect infection. Symptoms include redness, heat, swelling or discharge from the wound site.

Long-term outlook after a coronary angiogram

You will need to make another appointment with your doctor to discuss the results of your angiogram. Treatment depends on the diagnosis. 

Narrowed coronary arteries may possibly be treated during the angiogram by a technique known as angioplasty. A special catheter is threaded through the blood vessels and into the coronary arteries to remove the blockage. Another surgical option for severely narrowed coronary arteries is a by-pass operation. This involves transplanting veins and arteries from other parts of your body to your heart. Faulty heart valves require surgical correction. 

Things to remember

  • A coronary angiogram is a special x-ray of your heart.
  • The purpose of this x-ray is to look for abnormalities of heart muscle or heart valves, and to see if the coronary arteries are narrowed or blocked.