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What is a Coronary Angiogram?

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  • Written By: wiseGEEK Writer
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 21 September 2018
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Coronary angiogram is a means by which cardiologists can determine how blood flows through the heart and the arteries that surround it. The procedure is often confused with cardiac catheterization, which is definitely related to it. Cardiac catheterization or cath, however, is a general term to describe most procedures that involve inserting a catheter into an artery (usually via neck or groin) and feeding it upward to the heart, to visualize heart structures or to perform some heart repairs like balloon angioplasty or stent placement. The difference in coronary angiogram is that it specifically refers to a contrast dye being injected into the catheter and a series of x-rays being taken to understand blood flow in the heart and to diagnose cardiac disease that has disturbed normal blood flow patterns.

Many people will undergo a coronary angiogram, in context of a more general cardiac catheterization. It’s often used to confirm diagnosis made with x-ray, echocardiogram or other tests. While it’s common to think of this procedure as done on adults with varying forms of heart disease, coronary angiogram is not an uncommon diagnostic tool for infants and children who have congenital heart defects or acquired heart disease.

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Though common, coronary angiogram is associated with certain risks, though complications have become more rare with perfection of practice. It is possible for an angiogram to result in damage to heart structures or heart rhythm anomalies (arrhythmias), stroke, or development of blood clots. Some people may be at risk for bleeding or infection due to catheter insertion, and others have allergies to the contrast dye that emerge especially if the procedure has been performed more than once. Yet many people have this done without complications or issues and with only minor interruption to daily routine.

Typically coronary angiogram is an outpatient procedure. People may be conscious during it, though young children are more prone to receive greater levels of sedation because it is important to remain relatively still. With older kids and adults, better visualization of heart structures may be possible if the person can move slightly, and occasionally turn the head or raise arms as instructed by the doctor. The area where the catheterization is inserted is numbed with local anesthetic. People should not feel great discomfort during catheter insertion, and can speak up if they do.

The actual test usually lasts about an hour or less, unless other procedures are being performed concurrently. As mentioned complications can occur but are rare. After the test many people recover for a few hours and then go home, usually free to resume normal activities within a few days. This is supposing that diagnosis of any blood flow anomalies, if present, don’t warrant additional medical action immediately.

In all, coronary angiogram is a refined and well understood means of diagnosing blood flow issues in the heart and its surrounding arteries. It is usually not the first line diagnostic tool because it does carry greater risk than less invasive testing. On the other hand, it is a common method to confirm diagnosis and more precisely measure degree of damage or illness in the heart.

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