What Is an Angiogram | Angiography | MedStar Health
An angiogram image is displayed on a computer monitor in a cardiac catheterization lab.

A special X-ray that examines blood flow in an artery or vein

Angiography offers an advanced diagnosis and treatment for patients with disorders that affect the blood vessels and allows direct visualization of those structures. Radiographic contrast dye is injected through a thin, flexible catheter into the blood vessel, allowing the technician to view problematic areas. This diagnostic procedure is performed on an outpatient basis, using a light sedation to promote relaxation. The procedure typically takes 6-8 hours to complete.

Your doctor may recommend an angiogram to detect blockages or bulging, weak areas (aneurysms) in a blood vessel. The test is done using X-rays taken as a special dye is injected through a thin, flexible tube called a catheter.

Our team provide internationally recognized expertise in angiography through the Cardiovascular Core Laboratories, which provides input to researchers planning clinical trials to ensure imaging requirements for each trial are appropriate and the most effective.

Angiograms can look at blood vessels anywhere in the body, including the:

  • Arms and legs (peripheral angiogram)
  • Brain (cerebral angiogram)
  • Head and neck (carotid angiogram)
  • Heart (coronary angiogram)
  • Lungs (pulmonary angiogram)



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Two other options may be available: computed tomography angiogram (CT angiogram) and magnetic resonance angiogram (MRA). These tests are less invasive than a conventional angiogram, as they don’t require a catheter. While dye may still be needed, it can be injected through an IV in the hand or arm.

CT Angiography: This modern diagnostic test combines the technology of a conventional CT scan with that of traditional angiography. It can assess blood vessels noninvasively and usually takes 10-15 minutes to complete. It can often resolve questions as well as the traditional angiogram, but with much less risk to the patient. The test can also detect additional problems outside of the vessel, which would ordinarily be missed on a more invasive test.

Siemens Axiom Artis FA: This system has a flexible design for vascular and non-vascular diagnosis and interventions. The system performs peripheral angioplasty, stent placement, and embolization and offers immediate access to all relevant information concerning a patient's health.

What to expect

You’ll lie on your back on an X-ray table and be given a light sedative to help you relax. A small amount of hair may be shaved where the catheter will be inserted, and the area will be numbed with an injection of a local anesthetic.

Your doctor will insert the catheter into a blood vessel in the groin or arm. They will guide it to the area to be examined and inject an iodine dye. X-ray cameras will move around you to take pictures from many angles. The dye is easy to see on X-ray images, so your doctor can watch as it flows through the vessel and identify problem areas.

You shouldn’t feel the catheter moving through the body. You may feel a little warmth as the dye is injected, but it shouldn’t be uncomfortable or painful. The test should take about 1 hour, although it may take longer if your doctor detects a clogged blood vessel and decides to open it while the catheter is inserted. These procedures could include angioplasty or stent placement.

Afterward, you’ll need to lie flat for several hours to avoid bleeding and allow for observation. You’ll likely be able to go home the same day, but you should avoid strenuous activity and heavy lifting for several days.

Ask MedStar Heart & Vascular Institute

Have general questions for our heart and vascular program? Email us at AskMHVI@medstar.net. If you have clinically-specific questions, please contact your physician’s office.