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7-minute read

Key facts

  • Angiography is a procedure done to look at blood vessels in your body.
  • The pictures made during angiography are called angiograms.
  • Conventional angiography can be used for both diagnosing and treating problems with blood vessels.

What is an angiogram?

An angiogram is the image created by angiography. An angiograph is an imaging procedure to look at blood vessels in your body.

A special dye called ‘liquid contrast agent’ is injected into your bloodstream to make your blood vessels visible on a scan.

Conventional angiography uses x-rays and contrast agent to produce angiogram pictures. More recent techniques use CT scans or MRI scans.

Angiography can be used to look at blood vessels in or around your:

  • heart
  • lungs
  • brain
  • kidneys
  • legs
  • other parts of your body

Why is an angiogram done?

Angiograms help doctors detect and sometimes treat problems including:

  • abnormal blood vessels
  • blood clots
  • narrowing or blockages of blood vessels

Coronary angiograms show the blood vessels that supply your heart. They can show if you have narrowing of your coronary arteries.

Pulmonary angiograms show the blood vessels in your lungs. They can be used to see if there is narrowing of a blood vessel, or to look for blood clots in your lungs.

As well as being used for diagnosis, conventional angiography can also be used as a treatment.

  • Narrowed arteries may be treated by inflating a tiny balloon (angioplasty) or inserting a tiny metal tube called a stent to keep the artery open.
  • Blood vessels may be blocked to stop bleeding (called embolization).
  • Blood clots may be removed.

CT and MRI angiography can only be used for diagnosis. Treatment is not possible during a CT or MRI angiogram.

A CT coronary angiogram (CTCA) looks at the coronary arteries while the heart is beating.

This page focuses on conventional angiography.

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Before having an angiogram

Your doctor will talk with you about the procedure. They will tell you about any risks. This is a good time to ask questions or discuss any concerns.

You should tell your doctor or nurse:

Some angiogram procedures require you to fast (have no food or drink) for 4 to 6 hours beforehand.

Other procedures need you to drink a lot of fluids before the test. Your doctor or radiology provider will give you clear instructions beforehand.

You may need to stop taking some medicines before the procedure. Check with your doctor.

You will need to arrange for someone to help you get home from the test.

What happens during an angiogram?

You will be given local anaesthetic to numb the area where a catheter (thin tube) will be inserted. You may also be given a sedative medicine to help you relax.

The catheter is inserted into a large blood vessel in your arm or groin. The catheter is then threaded through your blood vessels to reach the right area.

Contrast medium (the liquid that helps show up the blood vessels) is injected through the catheter and x-rays are taken. You will be asked to stay very still or hold your breath while the images are being taken.

When the contrast medium goes in, you might feel temporary warmth or a hot flush. Some people feel nauseous or have chest discomfort, but this doesn't usually last long. Let your doctor know if you are experiencing these or any other symptoms.

If your doctor or radiologist finds a blockage or clot during a conventional angiogram, they may be able to treat the problem during the procedure.

What happens after an angiogram?

After an angiogram, the catheter will be carefully removed. The doctor or nurse will put pressure on the wound to reduce your risk of bleeding. You will be asked to lie flat for a few hours.

If you had a sedative, you must not drive or use public transport for 24 hours afterwards. You should also have someone stay with you for 24 hours after the procedure.

Angiogram risks and side effects

There is a small risk that you will be allergic to the contrast medium. This can result in itching, rash or more severe reactions, such as breathing difficulties. It's important to tell your doctor about any previous allergic reactions you have had before the procedure.

There is a small risk of bruising or bleeding where the catheter was put in.

There is also a small risk that the procedure may damage a blood vessel and cause bleeding or a blockage.

Sometimes angiography can lead to a blood vessel spasm (where the muscles in your blood vessel tighten). This can cause a temporary blockage.

Conventional angiography uses x-rays, but the doses of radiation are very small.

However, angiograms are not generally carried out on pregnant women because of the radiation dose to the unborn baby. You can read more about this at Pregnancy, Birth and Baby’s Radiation exposure during pregnancy page.

Kidney damage from the contrast agent is possible but is usually temporary.

When will I get my angiogram results?

The doctor who did the angiogram may tell you about the results after the procedure. You should also discuss the results with your doctor once they have the results.

Resources and support

Inside Radiology has information on imaging procedures, including angiography.

If you want to know more about angiography or need advice on what to do next, you can call the healthdirect helpline on 1800 022 222 (known as NURSE-ON-CALL in Victoria). A registered nurse is available to speak with 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: December 2023

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