If you have heart problems, a family history of heart issues, or suspect something is happening with your heart health, your cardiologist might order a coronary angiogram. Millions of people go through this standard cardiac diagnostic test and procedure yearly. Even though this test is a bit more invasive than a typical X-ray or cardiac CT scan, it happens quickly and is an efficient way to determine if there is any restriction in the heart’s blood vessels. Overall, a coronary angiogram is a life-saving test that can identify a range of problems.
What is a coronary angiogram?
A coronary angiogram is one of the most accurate diagnostic tests for identifying coronary heart disease and other heart-related issues. Staff at the American Heart Association describe what can happen to the coronary arteries, which might necessitate a coronary angiogram.
“The coronary arteries supply your heart muscle with blood. They can become clogged from a buildup of cholesterol, cells, or other substances (plaque). This can reduce the flow of blood to your heart. If a blood clot forms and blocks blood flow through that artery, a heart attack may occur.”
Coronary angiograms are a type of cardiac catheterization procedure – because a technician uses a catheter during diagnostic testing.
When a doctor performs this test, they insert a tube called a catheter into an artery in your groin (which they numb) and thread it through to your heart. A special dye is injected into the catheter, which flows through your arteries and highlights any problems with blood flow as a technician takes X-rays. There may be some pressure, but the test should not be painful; however, many people take medication to relax before the angiogram to reduce anxiety.
If you’re scheduled for this test, here are some things to remember: First, avoid eating or drinking for eight hours before the procedure. Second, wear loose clothing. And finally, be prepared for discomfort during the procedure – most people say it feels like getting stung by a bee. But don’t worry, the test only takes a few minutes, and most people can return to their usual activities afterward.
When abnormal results arise for a patient, there is a blockage in the artery or arteries. Cardiologists will determine how badly they are blocked and what the next step of treatment will be.
Who needs a coronary angiogram?
According to heart experts at the Mayo Clinic, doctors may recommend that you have a coronary angiogram if you have the following:
- Symptoms of coronary artery disease, such as chest pain (angina)
- Pain in your chest, jaw, neck, or arm that other tests can’t explain
- New or increasing chest pain (unstable angina)
- A heart defect you were born with (congenital heart disease)
- Abnormal results on a noninvasive heart stress test
- Other blood vessel problems or a chest injury
- A heart valve problem that requires surgery
If any of these describe you, reach out to your doctor about the possibility of a coronary angiogram, especially if they have already done other diagnostic tests.
Coronary angiogram risks
Unlike some cardiac diagnostic tests, such as a cardiac CT scan or echocardiogram, a coronary angiogram sometimes poses a risk to patients because it is a more invasive procedure. Some people may be allergic to the X-ray dye, or the medication that is given for relaxation before the coronary angiogram begins. While low, other risks patients take during this test are:
- Low blood pressure
- Heart attack
- An injured blood vessel
- Blood clots
- Abnormal heartbeats
- Kidney damage, including the need for dialysis
- Pain, bleeding, or infection where a needle or catheter broke your skin
- A reaction to the dye or anesthetic
- Cardiac tamponade (pressure on your heart from fluid building up around it
The most important thing to do is speak to your doctor about who is most at risk for complications during a coronary angiogram. They can tell you if you might be in one of those high-risk groups and if undergoing a diagnostic coronary angiogram outweighs those risks. For most people, this test is done in an outpatient setting with zero complications.
If you suspect a heart-related ailment or have heart conditions in the family, please don’t wait until problems arise. A coronary angiogram is a life-saving diagnostic test commonly used with little risk and many benefits. It can be done quickly and easily, providing valuable information about your heart health. Don’t hesitate to ask your heart doctor if you need a coronary angiogram. If you don’t already have a cardiologist or want to change doctors, those at Cardiovascular Group make up the best team in Gwinnett County. Request a consultation appointment with them and discuss your heart health needs.