We use angiography to produce an angiogram which is a picture of an arterial blood vessel. Arteries are the blood vessels that carry oxygenated blood from the heart and lungs to our organs and limbs. Certain organs need very high levels of oxygen so take a large proportion of what the heart produces – these are the heart itself, the brain and the kidneys.
A coronary angiogram is the gold standard for looking to see if there are narrowings or blockages in the coronary arteries. The pictures are taken by injecting dye into the coronaries using long tubes called catheters. Cardiologists like myself perform these procedures in the cardiac catheterization laboratory (cathlab). The catheters are passed through tiny holes in the arteries at the wrist or sometimes the top of the leg. Patients do not need to be asleep for this procedure and most of mine chat to me while it is going on. Some of the more curious watch their own pictures as they are taken!
If narrowings are found there are various ways of addressing them. For some medication is adequate but for those with intrusive angina, and those who have presented in an unstable way, we recommend the placing of stents – small tubes of scaffolding that hold the artery open. These can be placed at the same sitting as the angiogram – a procedure called an angioplasty or PCI (percutaneous coronary intervention) performed by interventional cardiologists.