Coronary Angiography / Intervention

What is coronary angiography?

Coronary angiography is a type of keyhole x-ray test performed to look at the way the heart, and the arteries around the heart (the coronary arteries) are functioning. It is also sometimes referred to as 'cardiac catheterisation'.

Why is coronary angiography used?

A coronary angriogram is carried out when other tests such as echocardiography or a stress test indicate that coronary disease may be present present. An angiogram will confirm whether or not this is the case.

The equipment used to conduct an angiogram can also be used to fix a coronary artery if a narrowing is found. When this happens it is referred to as 'percutaneous coronary intervention' or simply 'PCI'. See more on this below.

What happens during a coronary angiogram?

A thin tube called a catheter is inserted into the coronary arteries (normally via a blood vessel in the groin or the wrist). Then a type of x-ray sensitive contrast dye is injected into the artery, which allows a series of x-rays taken at the same time to highlight any blockages.

The insertion of the catheter involves the application of local anaesthetic at the insertion point, but otherwise the procedure is carried out with the patient awake. A heart monitor monitors the heartbeat throughout the procedure, which generally takes less than 40 minutes.

What is coronary intervention?

If during the examination a narrowed section of artery is found, it may be possible to treat these during the examination, in a procedure known as PCI (see above). Using the same angiography equipment a small balloon type device is inflated in the blocked section of artery. This is designed to unblock that section. Sometimes inflating the balloon is enough on its own, and in some cases a small tube called a stent also needs to be inserted into the artery to keep that section open.

If the angiogram shows that issues with the arteries cannot be treated during the procedure, further heart bypass surgery may be required.

Of all of the tests and examinations for heart conditions, an angiogram is the most accurate diagnostic test.