• What Is An Angiogram?
||What Is An Angiogram?
Angiography or coronary angiogram is a test which is used to diagnose coronary heart disease (CHD). The procedure involves the use of heart catheterization which means inserting a thin long hollow tube (catheter) into the coronary arteries which supply blood to the heart. Once in place a contrast dye is injected which doctors trace on an X-ray machine. If there are any blockages in the arteries this will show up during the test. It should also show the exact location of the blockage and size (how tight the blood vessels look). This will help a doctor to determine the best course of treatment for the patient. An angiogram is only performed for diagnostic purposes. In other words the doctor will not do anything to open any blockages he finds. That is the key difference between angiography (a diagnostic procedure) and angioplasty (a treatment procedure which is used to open blockages). About 1.5 million Americans undergo an angiogram every year. The test is usually performed in a specially equipped room called a cardiac catheterization lab at a hospital. Not all hospitals have this facility but ideally a patient should request treatment in one that does. It is also worth pointing out that angiograms are not only performed on the heart (coronary angiogram) but can also be used in other areas of the body such as the brain (cerebral angiogram), lungs (pulmonary angiogram), head and neck (carotid angiogram), legs or arms (peripheral) and the aorta (aortogram).
Coronary heart disease (CHD), also referred to as coronary artery disease (CAD), occurs when fatty deposits called plaque buildup in the arteries over time. This process is called atherosclerosis. When fatty deposits build up, the arteries become clogged and blood flow is limited. This means the heart does not receive enough blood or oxygen (oxygen is delivered to the cells of the body via our blood). This can lead to angina symptoms and shortness of breath. Without treatment, the arteries will gradually become more blocked until blood flow is stopped. This leads to heart attacks and strokes. See: Heart attacks in women and stroke in women for further explanations.
Most patients will arrive in hospital on the day of the procedure. It is normally performed on an out-patient basis. They may be given a sedative to help them relax just before the procedure begins. After changing into a hospital gown they will be taken to the cardiac catheterization lab (if the hospital has one). An area of skin in the groin will be antiseptically cleansed and shaved (if necessary) or an area of the wrist will be cleaned, depending on where the surgeon intends to insert the catheter. An anesthetic is injected into the skin where the incision will be made to numb the area. The patient will remain awake throughout the operation but should feel very little discomfort. A small incision is made in the groin (or arm) which allows the cardiologist direct access to a vein or artery. Using a special needle he injects the catheter into the vein and directs it, using an X-ray guidance machine, towards the heart. You will not feel the tube inside the blood vessels, but you may experience the sensation of a skipped or missed heartbeat. This is no cause for alarm. Your heartbeat will be monitored by electrodes placed on your chest which are connected to an ECG machine. Once the catheter reaches its destination, a special X-ray iodine dye is injected which allows the doctor to view the structure of the heart more clearly. The dye will be excreted naturally by the kidneys within a few hours. As the dye in injected you may feel a sensation such as nausea or flushing (like you are urinating, which you are not) but again, this is quite normal. However if you feel any chest pain, inform your doctor immediately. At different times you may be asked to hold your breath as the X-ray camera moves around taking images. The images are recorded permanently by the X-ray machine. Once the doctor is satisfied all the images have been taken, the catheter is removed. A bandage is placed over the site of entry and pressure is applied to it for 15 minutes to stop the bleeding. You will be moved back to the recovery or day ward and advised to rest for another couple of hours, allowing time for the entry wound to heal. Unless there were any complications or the results indicated immediate surgical intervention was necessary, you will be discharged the same day. You should arrange for someone to pick you up. Once you are at home, you should rest for another 6 to 8 hours before attempting to walk around. After this, you can resume normal activity. If you are a nursing mother you should wait for 24 hours before resuming breast-feeding to allow the dye time to be excreted out of the body.
As with any invasive procedure (meaning one which involves cutting the skin and entering the body), there are always some risks. The risk however of serious complication is very small and only really occur in patients who already have severe heart problems. Yet, people have died during this procedure. As a consequence a doctor will only recommend an angiogram if they feel the benefits outweigh the small risk.
• On the day of the test, or beforehand, you may need an electrocardiogram (ECG/EKG) test and blood tests to ensure that you are physically able for the procedure.
When Do I Receive The Test Results?
(1) Not to have an angiogram and to continue treating their symptoms with lifestyle changes and medication if necessary.
(2) To have an angiogram and find out if they need angioplasty or bypass surgery.
The decision will ultimately be yours. You will need to take into account the medical facts as well as your own personal feelings and resources. See also living with heart disease.
Reasons For An Angiogram
1. Your symptoms are no longer controlled by medication and have affected your daily life. You find it difficult to get about without experiencing chest pain or shortness of breath.
2. You will find out if you need angioplasty or heart bypass surgery.
3. You have a job which involves the safety of others and you need to know your risk of a heart attack.
Reasons Against An Angiogram
1. It carries serious risk complications such as heart attack, although this is rare.
2. It is expensive.
3. If you can control your symptoms of angina with medication an angiogram may not be necessary.
4. You may have other health problems which make bypass surgery or angioplasty impossible, so there is no point in an angiogram.
5. You smoke. Studies show that the risk of dying after bypass surgery or angioplasty is considerably higher for smokers. menopause combined with traditional risk factors for heart disease. MVD is dangerous because it can cause sudden death. It typically affects women with high blood pressure or diabetes. Diagnosing the condition is challenging because standard tests for CHD do not work. It is estimated that between 2 and 3 million American women are living with the disease - and although they may exhibit chest pain and have abnormal stress test results, an angiogram can appear normal. If you have a 'normal' angiogram but are still experiencing chest pains, ask your doctor if he thinks you might have a problem with your smaller arteries. He might tell you to complete a questionnaire called the Duke Activity Status which measures how easily you perform everyday tasks. It is useful in predicting heart attack risks.
Another problem area is patients who suffer coronary artery spasm, symptoms of which can come and go. This is a dangerous condition which is caused by hormone or neurological changes that cause the artery to spasm (it is not caused by blockages in the arteries). If symptoms are not present during the angiogram, it will be missed.
Finally it is worth mentioning that even if doctors do find blockages in the arteries, it is not always clear which blockage may be causing the patient's symptoms.
Other Types of Angiograms
Less invasive procedures such as a magnetic resonance angiogram (MRA) or computed tomography angiogram (heart CTA) may be an alternative option to a standard coronary angiogram. All CTA tests and some MRA tests still require the injection of a dye.
Other Methods of Monitoring The Heart
|Related Articles on CHD Testing
For more cardiovascular health, see the following:
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