What is coronary angiography?

Coronary angiography is a procedure that allows your doctor to take a picture or image (an angiogram) of the blood vessels (arteries) that supply your heart muscle. Doctors use coronary angiography to study the arteries of your heart that are obstructed, blocked, or narrowed, and diagnose the underlying cause.

Coronary angiography is only one method used to diagnose a variety of heart and vascular diseases, and conditions. Discuss all the testing options with your doctor understand which options are right for you.  

Types of coronary angiography

The types of coronary angiography procedures include:

  • Catheter coronary angiography involves inserting a catheter into a vessel in your groin or arm. The catheter wire is then fed, or guided to the area to be examined. X-rays are used to produce the angiogram or picture of the vessel.
  • Noninvasive coronary angiography uses computed tomography (CT), or sometimes magnetic resonance imagining (MRI) or ultrasound, to produce the angiogram. CT involves radiation exposure but MRI and ultrasound methods do not.

Catheter coronary angiography, and in some cases, noninvasive coronary angiography, use a contrast agent, sometimes called a dye. This is administered intravenously (through an IV). The contrast agent improves the quality of the image.

Other procedures that may be performed

The following catheter procedures can be performed during a catheter coronary angiography:

  • Angioplasty to widen a narrowed or obstructed vessel
  • Blood clot removal by injecting clot-dissolving medications into the artery via the catheter
  • Cardiac catheterization to examine the interior of the heart chambers, the heart valves, and evaluate heart function
  • Stent placement with a mesh tube, which is permanently inserted into the blood vessel to keep the vessel open

These procedures cannot be performed during noninvasive coronary angiography because it does not use a catheter. Your doctor may recommend a catheter procedure or surgery if a noninvasive coronary angiography diagnoses serious heart disease.

Why is coronary angiography performed? 

Your doctor may recommend a coronary angiography to diagnose diseases and conditions of the heart and its blood vessels. It evaluates the function of the heart, heart valves, and the major blood vessels of the heart. Coronary angiography is also used to find the underlying cause of symptoms, such as chest pain. 

Coronary angiography helps your doctor plan the best treatment for you. Some treatments, such as angioplasty, can be performed with coronary angiography.   

Coronary angiography diagnoses and helps treat the following: 

  • Aortic stenosis, a disorder of the valve between your heart and your aorta. Your aorta is the main artery leaving your heart.
  • Blood clots, or coronary thrombosis
  • Chest pain due to abnormal heart function, atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries), or other conditions 
  • Coronary artery disease (CAD), a buildup of plaque on the walls of the coronary arteries that supply blood to the heart
  • Coronary blood vessel malformations. Your doctor may use coronary angiography to identify the specific defect.
  • Heart attack, which usually due to atherosclerosis and a blood clot that block blood flow to the heart
  • Heart failure when the underlying cause cannot be determined by other tests
  • Unclear stress test results for symptoms such as shortness of breath or chest pain
  • Unstable angina, which is chest pain that occurs suddenly in the absence of activity. Unstable angina is primarily due to atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries that supply the heart with blood. 

Who performs coronary angiography?

The following specialists perform coronary angiography:

Cardiac surgeons specialize in the surgical treatment of conditions of the heart and its blood vessels. Cardiac surgeons may also be known as cardiothoracic surgeons

Cardiologists, pediatric cardiologists,

and interventional cardiologists often perform catheter coronary angiography. These specialists are specially trained in diagnosing and treating heart disease using catheter procedures and radiological imaging&