During an angiogram, patients are put under light sedation and dye is injected through a catheter that is threaded through the leg to the chambers of the heart or coronary arteries. The X-ray machine takes detailed pictures as the dye moves through the blood vessels. The external X-ray camera moves around the chest and head to capture detailed images from many angles.

The dye helps doctors identify blockages or abnormalities in the heart. If an abnormality is discovered, the doctor may perform a different catheterization procedure to fix the problem, such as implanting a stent to open up a narrowed artery.

Coronary angiograms fall under the umbrella of heart catheterization procedures, all of which help diagnose heart conditions. Your doctor may perform a coronary angiogram for the following reasons:

  • To find the source of chest, jaw, neck or arm pain that cannot be explained by other tests
  • If you were born with a heart defect
  • If your doctor needs to rule out heart issues before a major surgery

Coronary angiograms usually take one hour to perform. Patients are generally awake during the procedure so they can follow directions, such as changing breathing patterns, coughing or moving their arms. Throughout the procedure, doctors monitor blood pressure, oxygen in the blood and heart function. They also determine whether medication is necessary to prevent blood clots.

After the procedure, the catheter is removed and the incision site closed. Patients are monitored until their condition is stable, and then they may be asked to remain lying down for a few hours to prevent bleeding. Afterward, they’re generally advised to refrain from strenuous activity for several days.