Understanding Angiogram Procedures and Heart Health

Understanding Angiogram Procedures and Heart Health

Understanding Angiogram Procedures and Heart Health 

An angiogram is an imaging test that allows your doctor to see how blood flows through your arteries and veins[1]. It is commonly used to examine blood vessels in the heart, brain, kidneys, and limbs. During an angiogram, a thin flexible tube called a catheter is inserted into an artery, usually in the leg or arm[1]. A special dye is then injected through the catheter so blood vessels and organs show up more clearly on X-ray images. 

A coronary angiogram is a diagnostic procedure, and if significant blockages are identified, additional interventions may be recommended to address them.

Why Doctors Perform Angiograms 

There are a few key reasons why your doctor may recommend getting an angiogram[1]

  • To check for narrowed or blocked arteries in the heart - This is called a coronary angiogram and it allows doctors to see if you have coronary artery disease (CAD) or blockages preventing proper blood flow to the heart. 
  • To examine abnormalities in blood vessels in the brain prior to surgery - For example, if an aneurysm or arteriovenous malformation (AVM) is suspected. 
  • To plan a procedure to open up blocked arteries such as an angioplasty or stent placement. The angiogram allows the interventional cardiologist to see the exact location and size of blockages. 
  • To check artery disease status after a procedure such as a bypass graft surgery. An angiogram can show if the new grafts are open and working well. 
  • To evaluate kidneys for adequate blood flow and function, often when kidney failure or high blood pressure is suspected. 

The angiogram gives vital information to determine if treatment is needed and guides the exact type of procedure when necessary. 

Angiogram Procedures Step-by-Step 

If your doctor orders an angiogram for you, here is a general overview of what you can expect[2][3]

Before the Angiogram 

You will get pre-procedure instructions from your doctor’s office several days before the test. This may include:

  • Stopping certain medications temporarily - Especially blood thinners or NSAID pain relievers which can increase bleeding risk. 
  • Starting new medications - You may need to start taking antibiotics to prevent infection associated with inserting a catheter. 
  • Fasting requirements - You will be asked to stop eating and drinking anything for 6 to 12 hours before the angiogram. 

Let your doctor know if you have any allergies or previous reactions to the dye (contrast agent) used in angiograms. People with kidney problems may need additional preparation too. 

Arrange for someone to drive you to and from the appointment since you will receive sedation medication making it unsafe to drive yourself. 

During the Angiogram 

Angiograms are performed in a special suite called the cardiac catheterization laboratory equipped with an X-ray machine, monitors, and staff experienced with vascular imaging procedures. Here are the general steps[2][3]

  1. You will change into a hospital gown. 
  2. An IV line will be placed in your arm to administer medications including a sedative to help you relax, contrast dye for imaging, and blood thinner to prevent clots. 3. Your groin area will be shaved and sterilized where the catheter insertion site is located. Your cardiologist will numb the area with local anesthetic to minimize discomfort. 4. Using X-ray guidance, the catheter (a thin hollow flexible tube) is inserted into an artery in your upper leg or sometimes the arm. You may feel some pressure but the procedure is generally not painful. 
  3. The catheter is carefully threaded up through the aorta and into the opening of the coronary arteries branching off from the heart. You should not feel the catheter moving inside. 
  4. When in position, the contrast dye is injected through the catheter. This allows the arteries and heart chambers to show up on X-ray recordings called angiograms. 7. You may feel a hot flushing sensation when the contrast dye is injected. This is normal and passes quickly. 
  5. Numerous images are captured from different angles showing both the right and left coronary artery networks along with the heart muscle chambers and valves. 9. After thoroughly examining the heart arteries, more images may be taken of arteries supplying the brain, kidneys, or limbs if necessary. 
  6. Once imaging is complete, the catheter is slowly removed and pressure applied to prevent bleeding. In some cases, a closure device may be used to seal the artery puncture site. 

The procedure normally takes 30 minutes to 1 hour. You will need to lay flat for 3 to 6 hours afterwards to allow the insertion site to heal.

After the Angiogram 

You will wake up and recover for a period in a monitored area to ensure no immediate complications arise, such as bleeding or reactions to medications given. This usually takes 2 to 4 hours

Once discharged, you will receive post-procedure instructions to follow such as[4]

  • Medications to take - Such as antibiotics, pain relievers, blood thinners, etc. 
  • How to care for the insertion site - Avoid soaking in water, strenuous activity, and lifting heavy objects for a few days. 
  • Watching for signs of infection or bleeding - Including severe pain, numbness, significant swelling or bleeding. 
  • Avoiding driving or operating machinery for 24 hours due to sedative effects wearing off. 
  • When normal activities and medications can resume. Discuss clarifying questions with your doctor. 

Within 5 to 7 days, imaging results will be analyzed by your cardiologist. A follow-up appointment is then scheduled to discuss findings, diagnosis, and treatment plan if heart disease is found requiring intervention. 

Angiogram Results - What Could They Show? 

The expert analysis of angiogram images along with blood flow measurements within the heart arteries provide very detailed anatomical information. Here are some key findings that may be discovered[5]

  • Location and percentage of blockages - Single, multiple, or diffuse narrowing spots can appear in any of the main coronary arteries or branches. 
  • Plaque characteristics - Calcification, fat, cholesterol deposits, etc. This helps gauge plaque stability risks. 
  • Heart muscle damage signs - Prior silent heart attacks may be evident. 
  • Heart chamber size and functionality - Enlarged, thickened, or weak regions indicating cardiomyopathy. 
  • Valve disorders - Leakage, backflow, or stenosis severity judged. 
  • Congenital abnormalities - Such as anomalous coronary origins, and septal defects. 
  • Prior bypass grafts or stents status - Grafts scans show if new blockages formed. Stents can have re-narrowing inside. 

The angiogram may detect no significant abnormalities or conversely very advanced coronary artery disease requiring prompt attention. The full context of risk factors and symptoms helps your cardiologist decide the best next therapy steps.

A coronary angiogram is a medical procedure used to visualize the blood vessels (coronary arteries) that supply blood to the heart muscle.

Treatment Options for Heart Artery Blockages 

If your angiogram reveals blocked coronary arteries requiring intervention, several options exist to restore proper blood flow and oxygen to the heart muscle. Your cardiologist will determine which treatment route is most appropriate based on medical history, artery disease extent, and cardiac risk profiles[6]


Mild stable blockages may just need optimized medical therapy involving: 

  • Statins - To lower blood cholesterol levels. 
  • Antiplatelet agents - Such as aspirin or stronger thienopyridines to prevent clot formation and heart attacks. 
  • Beta-blockers - Help relieve chest pain (angina) and reduce high blood pressure levels. 
  • ACE inhibitors - Vasodilate arteries to improve pressure, heart strain, and function. 
  • Calcium channel blockers - Relax arteries to optimize blood flow, also reducing blood pressure. 
  • Nitroglycerin - Quickly opens arteries to relieve acute chest pain from exertion or stress. 
  • Ranolazine - Specifically reduces angina pain and oxygen demand from coronary narrowing. 

Medications help stabilize disease progression but do not resolve fat plaques or widen narrow areas within arteries

Percutaneous Coronary Intervention 

Percutaneous coronary intervention (PCI) utilizes catheterization to access, unblock, and reinforce the diseased coronary arteries without necessitating open heart surgery. There are two main PCI options[7]

Angioplasty and Stenting 

This involves threading a tiny balloon on a catheter tip to the blockage location and briefly inflating it to flatten plaque against the artery wall. This widens the passage for improved flow. Usually, a tiny mesh tube called a stent remains implanted in the newly opened area to improve long-term patency and prevent re-narrowing from recurring plaque or scarring. 

Studies show PCI significantly reduces mortality over medication alone when treating major coronary obstructions[7]


Atherectomy employs a special catheter tipped with a cutting or grinding device to bore out and remove plaque material from inside the artery. This is often performed along with standard angioplasty but may allow treatment of more complex or calcified blockage anatomy. 

Various atherectomy types exist including: 

  • Rotational - Uses high-speed miniature burr 
  • Orbital - Diamond-coated crown spins eccentrically 
  • Laser - Vaporizes plaques 

Coronary Artery Bypass Grafting 

Coronary artery bypass graft (CABG) utilizes sections of healthy blood vessels taken from leg veins or chest wall arteries which are grafted to bypass blockages in coronary arteries. This surgery requires placing the patient on a heart-lung machine which pumps blood while the heart is stopped and graft attachments are sewn[8]

Bypass surgery features very good long-term outcomes for severe multi-vessel disease not optimally treatable by PCI methods alone. Patients also often report improved stamina and quality of life after successful CABG procedures. 

In cases of left main coronary disease, severe 3-vessel disease, diabetic patients, or diffuse narrowing unsuited to focal PCI treatment - bypass surgery offers a survival advantage and thus is strongly advised[8]

Heart Healthy Lifestyle Choices 

While doctors can intervene to open arteries and restore adequate blood flow, maintaining heart health long-term requires a commitment to healthy lifestyle patterns every day. 

Here are evidence-based steps anyone can start taking to reduce cardiac risk factors, prevent atherosclerosis progression, and support cardiovascular wellness[9][10]

Heart Healthy Eating 

  • Follow a Mediterranean-style diet high in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds. Use olive oil for cooking instead of butter or trans fats. 
  • Limit red meat intake to less than 12 ounces weekly - Choose leaner poultry, fish, beans, and lentils as plant-based protein sources. 
  • Minimize foods with added sugars, refined carbohydrates, or sodium. Read package nutrition labels closely. 
  • Stay well hydrated drinking six to eight 8-ounce glasses of water daily. Exercise and Fitness Goals
  • Engage in at least 150 minutes weekly of moderate exercise such as brisk walking, swimming, cycling, tennis, etc. Those with cardiac limitations should remain active to their safe ability. 
  • Incorporate muscle-strengthening routines using weights, resistance bands, or body weight at least 2 days weekly for 20 minutes per session targeting all major muscle groups. 
  • Take frequent movement breaks when working at a desk. Use a fitness tracker watching for at least 5,000 daily steps. Gradually increase walking intensity and distance to reach 10,000 step daily activity target. 

Healthy Weight Objectives 

  • Determine your BMI and check that you are within or making progress toward the 18.5 to 24.9 normal range. Losing even 10% of excess body weight offers cardiac benefits. 
  • Waist circumference matters too - Strive to keep it less than 35 inches for women and 40 inches for men to reduce abdominal obesity and the harmful effects of visceral fat-secreting inflammatory adipokines. 

Restorative Sleep Routines 

  • Prioritize getting 7 to 9 hours nightly of quality, uninterrupted sleep to allow the body to recharge and help regulate appetite hormones that can trigger overeating and weight gain when sleep deprived. Support healthy circadian rhythms. 
  • Follow consistent sleep schedules during weeknights and weekends. Create an optimally comfortable environment removing electronic screens and distractions from the bedroom. 

Stress Modulation Skills 

  • Make relaxation practices such as yoga, deep breathing, massage, music therapy, etc. part of daily self-care routines. 
  • Cultivate gratitude, optimism, and ikigai purpose-driven meaning to counterbalance worry and negative emotions tied to chronic stress. 
  • Open up about emotional struggles and mental health concerns to supportive connections and professionals. Healing comes by processing rather than suppressing inner turmoil. 

Additional Positive Lifestyle Adjustments 

  • Quit smoking and avoid secondhand smoke exposure which directly irritates delicate endothelial lining of arteries. 
  • Moderate or avoid alcohol given its inflammatory impacts on the cardiovascular system in excess.
  • Get annual check-ups monitoring blood pressure, lipids panel, blood glucose trends plus cancer screenings. Take all medications as prescribed. Meet targets. 
  • Get flu shots and stay up-to-date on key immunizations like pneumonia vaccines to avoid triggering cardiovascular complications. 

Committing to a healthy lifestyle overhaul dramatically reduces the risk of first and repeat cardiac events. Strive to make self-caring choices daily

Even after coronary procedures or surgery, sticking to positive lifestyle changes leads to better outcomes long-term. Our day-to-day habits profoundly influence heart health. Small sustainable steps can add up to big results over time. Share your journey with a support network, enlist professional assistance as needed, and know each progress milestone reached is worthy of celebration! 

Prioritizing heart care through a combination of a healthy lifestyle, regular exercise, proper nutrition, and routine medical check-ups is essential for maintaining overall health and preventing cardiovascular diseases.


[1] Omeh, Demian J., and Evan Shlofmitz. “Angiography.” Nih.gov, StatPearls Publishing, 7 Aug. 2023, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK557477/

[2] “Coronary Angiography: MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia.” Medlineplus.gov, 2022, medlineplus.gov/ency/article/003876.htm

[3] Health. “Coronary Angiogram.” Vic.gov.au, 2019, 

[4] NHS Choices. What Happens - Angiography. 2023, www.nhs.uk/conditions/angiography/what-happens/

[5] Clinic, Cleveland. “Coronary Angiogram: Procedure Details.” Cleveland Clinic, 2021, my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diagnostics/22164-coronary-angiogram

[6] “Treatment.” NHLBI, NIH, 20 Dec. 2023, 

[7] Ahmad, Mansoor, et al. “Percutaneous Coronary Intervention.” Nih.gov, StatPearls Publishing, 5 June 2023, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK556123/

[8] “What Is Coronary Artery Bypass Grafting?” NHLBI, NIH, 24 Mar. 2022, www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/coronary-artery-bypass-grafting

[9] “Keep Your Heart Healthy - MyHealthfinder | Health.gov.Health.gov, Sept. 2021, health.gov/myhealthfinder/health-conditions/heart-health/keep-your-heart-healthy.

[10] “What Is Heart-Healthy Living?” NHLBI, NIH, 24 Mar. 2022, www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/heart-healthy-living.

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