The heart is a powerful muscular organ requiring an adequate supply of oxygen to function efficiently. Oxygen-rich blood is carried to the heart through three arteries that branch into a network of smaller vessels.
Coronary Artery Disease affects the blood vessels (arteries) on the surface of the heart. These arteries bring blood (rich in oxygen and nutrients) to the heart.
Aging and other complex factors cause these ordinarily soft and compliant blood vessels to harden. In addition, fat, cholesterol, and minerals from the blood are deposited on the inner surface of the coronary arteries. When this material builds up, it forms a plaque that may restrict the blood flow through the coronary artery. Such plaque may also change the surface of the artery from smooth to rough, and these rough surfaces may stimulate the formation of a blood clot, which may slowly build up and narrow the artery even more. A blood clot can also build up quickly and abruptly close off the artery.
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What is a Coronary Angiogram?
A procedure performed on the vessels in the heart is known as Coronary Angiogram or Angiography. ‘Angio’ in Greek refers to blood vessels, and ‘Gram’ in Angiogram refers to a measure in Latin. So, Angiogram refers to the analysis or recording of the condition of blood vessels.
Angiography or Coronary Angiogram is a process where X-rays are used to study the condition of blood vessels in the arms, chest, or head. Any obstruction of the blood vessels is identified, recorded, and reported to the consulting Doctor. Pregnant women and people with a history of asthma, kidney problems, and diabetes are not considered for Angiogram.
The angiograms are performed by placing a catheter in an artery or vein to be reviewed. An iodine dye is injected into the artery, which allows an x-ray to view the exact site of any blockage or tear in an artery. The results from angiograms can be viewed on traditional x-ray films, and with new technology, they can also be viewed as digital pictures.
Why is the Procedure Performed?
A Coronary Angiogram shows where the arteries are narrowed or blocked. Coronary Angiography is performed to detect obstruction in the coronary arteries in patients with angina or chest pain. It may also be performed as the next course of treatment when the patient has had a heart attack. Sometimes patients with valve disease or holes in the heart undergoing heart surgery may be advised Coronary Angiography.
How is Angiogram Performed?
A thin, plastic tube called a ‘sheath’ is inserted into an artery in your arm or leg. Catheters are passed through this sheath to the part of the aorta near the heart from which the coronary arteries arise. A special fluid called contrast medium or dye is injected through the catheter into the coronary arteries. As the blood with the contrast medium flows through the arteries and the chambers of the heart, the doctor can see how they look using X-rays. A series of X-ray pictures are recorded as a film (Cine Angiogram). The doctor will need to make several injections of contrast medium so that the coronary arteries can be filmed from different angles.
Throughout the procedure, you will be secure on the table. By connecting the catheter to a gauge, the pressure in the chambers of your heart and blood vessels can also be measured. Blood samples from those chambers may be collected for the procedure. Your heart functioning and blood pressure will be continuously monitored throughout the procedure.
What About the Result?
A normal result means adequate blood supply to the heart. An abnormal result is when Coronary Angiography shows the following:
Blockage of coronary arteries
Places of blockage
Degree of each blockage
These results can help your doctor decide on the right treatment for your heart disease. The information in this handout is not intended as a substitute for medical advice but is to be used as an aid in understanding ailment. Always consult your doctor about your medical condition.