Cardiac catheterisation and coronary angiography

Introduction

Cardiac catheterisation is an invasive diagnostic procedure that provides important information about the structure and function of the heart.

It usually involves taking X-ray pictures of the arteries supplying blood to the heart muscle (coronary arteries) using a technique called coronary angiography or arteriography. The resulting images are known as coronary angiograms.

The following short film is of Dr Peter Henriksen, Consultant Cardiologist for NHS Scotland, explaining what you need to know before having coronary angioplasty and stenting.

Why do I need coronary angiography?

Coronary angiography is used to examine your coronary arteries, diagnosing a number of heart conditions and to help guide treatment. For example, it may be used:

  • after a heart attack – where the heart’s blood supply is blocked
  • to investigate a possible diagnosis of angina – where pain in the chest is caused by a restricted blood supply to the heart
  • to plan interventional or surgical procedures – such as a coronary angioplasty and stenting, where narrowed or blocked blood vessels are widened, or coronary artery bypass surgery (CABG), where the narrowed arteries are bypassed using an alternative arterial supply or segments of the patient’s own veins that are usually taken from the leg

Read the British Heart Foundation's Having heart surgery and The heart  technical terms explained

Coronary angiography is also considered to be the ‘gold standard’ method of diagnosing coronary artery disease (conditions that affect the arteries supplying the heart muscle).

Read more about why coronary angiography is used.

What happens during coronary angiography?

During the procedure, a long, flexible tube called a catheter is inserted into a blood vessel in your groin or wrist. Using X-ray images as a guide, the tip of the catheter is fed up to the heart and coronary arteries.

A special type of dye called contrast medium is injected into the catheter, and X-ray images (angiograms) are taken.

The contrast medium is visible on the angiograms, giving an outline of the blood vessels. This clearly highlights any blood vessels that are narrowed or blocked.

Read more about how coronary angiography is performed.

After coronary angiography

After having coronary angiography, you will usually be able to leave hospital the same day, after a period of rest and observation.  You will not be able to drive and will require someone to accompany you.

Most people are fine the day after having the procedure, although you may feel a bit tired afterwards, and the wound site is likely to be tender for up to a week. Any bruising may last for several weeks.

However, you should seek immediate medical attention if swelling at the site of your wound gets worse, or if you experience excessive bleeding or circulation problems (numbness, tingling, change in colour) to a limb.

Read more about recovering from coronary angiography.

Risks

Cardiac catheterisation and coronary angiography are usually very safe. However, as with all procedures there are some risks, including:

    • being allergic to the contrast dye (this is rare) – discuss any allergies that you have with your cardiologist (heart specialist) before having the procedure
    • bleeding under the skin where the catheter was inserted – this should stop after a few days (contact your GP if you are concerned about it)
    • bruising – it is common to have a bruise in your groin area or arm afterwards, but excessive bruising or swelling needs to be checked by your doctor
    • a very small risk of more serious complications, including damage to the artery in the arm or leg where the catheter was inserted, heart attack, stroke, kidney damage and, very rarely, death

Read more about the risks of coronary angiography.

The British Heart Foundation have a wealth of resources, including information in different languages and formats. Their Heart Helpline phone number is 0300 330 3311.

Last updated: 18 May 2015

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