If your doctor suspects you have coronary artery disease (a type of heart disease where deposits build up in your arteries) or issues with the valves in your heart, they may recommend a procedure called an angiogram. An angiogram allows your doctor to look closely at your arteries or heart valves.
Understanding your procedure: coronary angiogram
What is a coronary angiogram?
A coronary angiogram uses X-rays and a special dye that’s injected into your coronary arteries to take pictures of your arteries and other blood vessels. This allows your doctor to see whether the arteries are narrow or blocked.
What happens during a coronary angiogram?
Before an angiogram, your doctor will inject a local anaesthetic into your wrist or groin so you won’t feel pain during the procedure, but you’ll still be awake. Often, you’ll also be given a sedative to help you feel relaxed.
Your doctor will then insert a thin, flexible tube (a catheter) into the area they’ve numbed and guide it into the artery to your heart. A dye will be injected into your blood through the tube, and a series of X-ray images will be taken as the dye moves through your arteries. You might feel a hot or warm flush sensation when the dye is injected.
Once the images are complete, your doctor will remove the tube and put pressure on the spot where it was inserted to stop the bleeding. The angiogram usually takes under an hour, but you’ll stay in hospital for up to 6 hours, while your healthcare team monitors your blood pressure, heartrate and breathing, as well as the site where the tube was inserted. Depending on your angiogram results and how you’re recovering, you may need to stay overnight for treatment.
How to prepare for a coronary angiogram
Good preparation can set you up for a smooth recovery. Your doctor will give you specific instructions on how to prepare, but some things to consider include:
- Plan to take it easy at first: Be prepared to rest and relax for at least 24 hours after the procedure. You may need to arrange time off work and other commitments. Read more on getting organised before hospital
- Arrange transport home: Ask someone to drive or accompany you home from hospital and stay with you that night.
- Take an active role: Don’t be afraid to ask your healthcare team any questions you have. Make sure you understand the risks and benefits of the procedure. Read more about questions to ask your doctor.
- Ask your doctor about fasting: You’ll be instructed to stop eating or drinking for a certain amount of time before your procedure.
- Make sure your doctor knows your medical history: Tell your doctor about any allergies or medicines you’re taking, especially medicines for diabetes or blood thinners. Your doctor may recommend you stop or change some medicines before the angiogram.
- Be as healthy as you can: The healthier you are, the better your body will be able to cope with any treatments you receive and help prevent heart problems from developing or getting worse. Read more about preparing your body.
What to expect after your angiogram
In the first week it’s normal to have some soreness and tenderness at the spot where the tube was inserted. Bruising is also common, and can last a little longer, but should go away after about two weeks.
You’ll also need to take some precautions to reduce the risk of complications in the first week. Your doctor or nurse will give you specific instructions around driving, exercise, how much weight you can lift and swimming. They’ll also explain how to change the dressing and care for the wound. You’ll need to keep it clean and dry. Don’t be shy to ask them to explain something in a different way or clarify anything you don’t understand.
Treatments after a coronary angiogram
If the angiogram shows that your arteries are narrow or blocked, you might have another procedure called a coronary angioplasty and stent, where your doctor will inflate and deflate a special balloon on the end of a catheter to open up your artery. They’ll then put in a stent, which is a small wire mesh tube that is inserted into your artery to keep it open and improve blood flow. These procedures can often be done when you’re having the angiogram.
Depending on the results from your angiogram, your doctor might recommend surgery instead of coronary angioplasty and stenting. They’ll discuss this with you after your procedure.
You may be prescribed new medicines to help prevent blood from clotting or sticking to the stent. It’s important to keep taking these medicines every day, even if you feel better, unless your specialist recommends otherwise.
Ask your doctor to refer you to a cardiac rehabilitation program. This is a tailored program to help you make changes to improve your heart health. It’s one of the best ways to reduce your chance of having another serious heart problem. Read more about Medibank’s Heart Rehab at Home trial.
Warning signs to look out for
Contact your doctor if you experience:
- Pus oozing from the wound
- Fever (38◦C and above).
Go to your nearest hospital emergency department if you have:
Worsening pain or discomfort around the area where the tube was inserted
A change in colour in the leg or arm you had the procedure on
Numbness, weakness or coldness in the arm or leg you had the procedure on.
Call 000 and order an ambulance if you experience:
Call 000 if you have any bleeding from or sudden swelling in the area of the puncture site. Lie down and have your support person press firmly on the area and keep applying pressure while you wait for an ambulance.
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Going to hospital?
If you’re an eligible member with hospital cover you can speak to our Health Concierge# to get support and guidance before and after your hospital stay. Call 1800 789 414 between 9am—5pm AEST (Mon-Fri). Just be sure to have your Medibank membership details ready.
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