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A coronary angiogram is a procedure that uses X-ray imaging to see your heart's blood vessels. Coronary angiograms are part of a general group of procedures known as cardiac catheterization.
Heart catheterization procedures can both diagnose and treat heart and blood vessel conditions. A coronary angiogram, which can help diagnose heart conditions, is the most common type of heart catheter procedure.
During a coronary angiogram, a type of dye that's visible by X-ray machine is injected into the blood vessels of your heart. The X-ray machine rapidly takes a series of images (angiograms), offering a detailed look at the inside of your blood vessels. If necessary, your doctor can perform procedures such as angioplasty during your coronary angiogram.
Your doctor may recommend that you have a coronary angiogram if you have:
• Symptoms of coronary artery disease, such as chest pain (angina)
• Pain in your chest, jaw, neck or arm that can't be explained by other tests
• New or increasing chest pain (unstable angina)
• A heart defect you were born with (congenital heart disease)
• Heart failure
• Other blood vessel problems or a chest injury
• A heart valve problem that requires surgery
You may also need an angiogram if you're going to have surgery unrelated to your heart, but you're at high risk of having a heart problem during that surgery.
Because there's a small risk of complications, angiograms are usually done after noninvasive heart tests have been performed, such as an electrocardiogram, an echocardiogram or a stress test.
In some cases, coronary angiograms are performed on an emergency basis. More commonly, though, they're scheduled in advance, giving you time to prepare.
Angiograms are performed in the catheterization (cath) lab of a hospital. Usually you go to the hospital the morning of the procedure. Your health care team will give you specific instructions and talk to you about any medications you take. General guidelines include:
• Don't eat or drink anything after midnight the day before your angiogram. Angiograms are often scheduled during the morning hours.
• Take all your medications to the hospital with you — in their original bottles. Ask your doctor about whether or not to take your usual morning medications.
• If you have diabetes, ask your doctor if you should take insulin or other oral medications before your angiogram.
Before your angiogram procedure starts, your health care team should review your medical history, including allergies and medications you take. The team may perform a physical exam and check your vital signs — blood pressure and pulse. You empty your bladder and change into a hospital gown. You may have to remove contact lenses, eyeglasses, jewelry and hairpins.