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Angiography is a procedure used to create an image of blood vessels, including those of the head, kidneys, heart or lungs. A contrast medium is injected into the artery so that the blood vessels can be seen.

Angiography can be performed using:

  • an x-ray with catheters
  • computed tomography (CT)
  • magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)

Angiography may also be called arteriography.

Why angiography is done

Angiography may be done to find out how well the person’s blood is passing through the blood vessels.

Angiography is not commonly used to diagnose cancer. For certain types of cancer, it may be used to:

  • view the blood supply of a tumour in the brain, spinal cord or kidney
  • help in staging and planning treatment

How angiography is done

Depending on the technique used to obtain images, angiography may be done in the hospital, a specialized computed tomography (CT) centre or a specialized magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) centre. It is usually done as an outpatient procedure. Angiography usually takes about 2 hours, but it may be longer if sedation or anesthesia is used.

  • Special preparation may be needed if sedation or general anesthesia is used.
    • The person will not be allowed to eat or drink for several hours before the angiogram.
  • The person will be asked to change into a gown and remove jewellery and other objects that might interfere with the test.

During the angiography:

  • The person will lie very still on an exam table.
  • An intravenous (IV) or intra-arterial line is placed.
    • Depending on the area being studied, the IV may be placed in a blood vessel in the arm, chest, neck or groin.
  • A catheter is then inserted through the IV and into the blood vessel.
  • A contrast medium is injected through the catheter.
  • X-rays or scans are taken.
  • The catheter is taken out and the doctor or nurse covers the area with a bandage and applies pressure to prevent bleeding.

Special precautions may be taken after the test is complete.

  • If sedation was used, a nurse will watch the person closely for 4–6 hours as they start to wake up.
  • The person must lay flat in bed for 6–8 hours after the test.
  • The person should not do any heavy lifting or strenuous activities for 48 hours.

Potential side effects

The potential side effects of having angiography are associated with the injection of a contrast medium and depend on the type of angiogram performed. These side effects may include:

  • bleeding, infection and pain at the IV site
  • a reaction to the contrast medium
  • damage to the blood vessels from the catheter (very small risk)
  • formation of blood clots on the catheters, which could later block blood vessels elsewhere in the body

What happens if a change or abnormality is found

The doctor will decide whether further tests, procedures, follow-up care or additional treatment are needed.

Special considerations for children

Being prepared for a test or procedure can reduce anxiety, increase cooperation and help the child develop coping skills. Parents and caregivers can help prepare children by explaining to them what will happen, including what they will see, feel and hear during the test.

  • The child will probably be alone in the room, unless it is requested that someone be with the child.
  • The child needs to lie still on the table.
    • Foam cushions and Velcro straps may be placed on the forehead and arms to prevent the child from moving.
    • Children 4 months to 5 years old may need sedation or general anesthesia to relax and lie still if CT or MRI is being used.
    • If sedation or a general anesthetic is being used, children may:
      • not be allowed to eat or drink several hours before the test
      • have an IV put in
      • be on a heart monitor
  • The child will feel a slight pin prick when the needle is inserted to inject the contrast medium.

The preparation you can provide for this test depends on the age and experience of the child. See the following for more age-specific information on helping children cope with tests and treatment.

contrast medium

A substance used in some diagnostic procedures to help parts of the body show up better on x-rays or other imaging tests.

In most cases, contrast medium is injected into or around the structure to be examined.

Also called contrast dye or contrast agent.


Steve Manske Helping young people improve their health

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