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What is a Cerebral Angiogram?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 17, 2024
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A cerebral angiogram or arteriogram is a medical imaging study which is used to visualize the blood supply to and in the brain. This test is used to look for issues like ruptured or leaking blood vessels, cerebral aneurysms, narrowed blood vessels, clots, and brain tumors. The procedure takes place in a hospital or outpatient radiology clinic, and lasts several hours. Patients are usually asked to wait after the procedure so that they can be monitored for any signs of side effects, and clinics usually request that patients arrange a ride home. Patients should keep this information in mind when scheduling a cerebral angiogram, and plan on dedicating all day to having the procedure done.

In a cerebral angiogram procedure, the patient is usually lightly sedated, and the head is strapped in place to prevent movements which could interfere with the test. Heart and blood pressure monitors are attached to keep track of the patient's health during the procedure, and the patient may be connected to an intravenous drip which provides hydrating fluids and fast access to the patient's venous system in the event of a medical emergency. Once the patient is settled in, a catheter is threaded into the body through the groin, and a radio-opaque contrast dye is injected.

As the dye moves through the arteries which supply blood to the brain, it shows up on an x-ray. The doctor can follow the real time progress of the contrast dye through the brain, looking for signs of medical problems and issues with the vascular network in the brain. If the patient's case calls for it, interventions can also take place during a cerebral angiogram, as when coils are placed in specific locations to resolve cerebral aneurysms.

After the procedure is finished, the patient is allowed to rest and then permitted to go home. The results of the cerebral angiogram may be read during the procedure by a doctor, or forwarded to the patient's physician for analysis and further examination, depending on the situation. The contrast dye will be expressed from the body naturally as it metabolizes.

Getting a cerebral angiogram can be uncomfortable. Patients sometimes experience a brief burning sensation as the contrast dye is injected, and they do not enjoy lying still for the procedure. The procedure also carries a risk of an allergic reaction to the contrast dye, making it important for patients to disclose known allergies in advance of the procedure, and there is a potential risk of stroke as a result of a cerebral angiogram procedure as well. Patients on certain medications may have additional risks from the procedure and in some cases a doctor may request that a patient stop using a particular medication for several days in advance of the procedure.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a WiseGeek researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By Pwint — On Nov 30, 2012

I have been having a lot of trouble with severe headaches, especially since early spring and have was diagnosed with all sorts of things from being overweight, sleep apnea and high blood pressure, to migraines. I've been medicated for all the above and nothing has gotten rid of the headaches.

I had three different MRIs and lost 46 pounds. The sleep apnea machine did nothing but make me more miserable. Topamax and Imitrex for migraines have relieved the the headaches somewhat but the pressure and pain is always there. The most recent MRI has shown a blocked artery in my brain. I'm not sure yet what the severity is. I'm scheduled for a CT angiogram next, so I'm really looking for some input from someone who has had any experiences like these.

By anon144436 — On Jan 19, 2011

Some discomfort? Ha! When I had mine, I suffered greatly. First, I was told I'd have to stay awake for the procedure. Then I was stabbed in the thigh by a needle as thick as a finger. After being told I'd feel some slight pressure, I felt pain such as a lightning strike, and I thought my head was exploding.

When I woke up – four hours later – I'd been checked into the hospital. I was there for three days, throwing up. I will never allow any such procedure to be done again!

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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