A coronary angiogram helps to diagnose heart conditions and is the most common type of heart catheterization procedure. During a coronary angiogram, a type of dye that's visible by an X-ray machine is injected into the blood vessels of your heart.
At the Royal Free London, you will usually be invited to attend for a coronary angiogram following an appointment in the rapid access chest pain clinic. You may have already had other tests such as an echocardiogram or a CT angiogram beforehand.
During the procedure, a small tube will be inserted in your wrist or groin and guided to your heart using specialist X-ray equipment. Using the X-Ray and a special dye, your doctor will have a look for narrowing’s in your heart arteries. If necessary the artery may need to be opened using a small balloon and a metal mesh called a stent. This procedure is called coronary angioplasty, also known as PCI (percutaneous coronary intervention).
Risk of having a coronary angiogram/angioplasty
Although these are safe procedures in the vast majority of patients, because we are placing equipment in and around the heart there is always a very small risk of complication. The most serious complications related to the procedure include stroke, death or a heart attack. Other potential complications include bruising at the point where we access the heart (either at the wrist or the top of the leg), bleeding, or an allergic reaction to the contrast dye that is given. Sometimes, if you have impaired kidney function we will need to monitor your blood tests for several days afterwards as there can be some deterioration following the procedure.
For a coronary angiogram alone the overall risk of complications is about 1 in 600 and for a stent insertion is 1 in 200, although it may be more than this in certain high-risk situations.
Your doctor will discuss these risks with you in detail beforehand. If you have any concerns it is important to highlight this to the healthcare professional looking after you so that these can be clarified before you come for your procedure.
It should be remembered that if you have severe disease affecting your heart then the risks of not treating it might be substantially higher than the small potential risks from the procedure.
For more information, please see the following links:
‘The NHS has saved my life again and again’