A coronary angiogram helps doctors diagnose coronary artery disease, congenital heart disease, heart valve failure and chest injuries, according to Mayo Clinic. Doctors use this X-ray test to evaluate the source of heart disease symptoms, such as chest, arm or neck pain.
Doctors may also perform an angiogram to assess a surgical patient's risk of heart complications prior to a noncardiac procedure, Mayo Clinic states. The test can detect areas of heavy plaque buildup narrowing the arteries and determine whether or not blockages are restricting blood flow throughout the cardiovascular system. The procedure is equally useful for deciding the most effective treatments for individual patients and monitoring the results of past surgeries.
The procedure typically begins with cardiac catheterization, a technique that requires threading a flexible, tube-like device through a blood vessel, the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute notes. The catheter is usually inserted through a neck, groin or arm vessel and injects special dye into the bloodstream, making the arteries more visible in X-ray images.
Patients remain awake during angiograms while electrodes, a blood pressure monitor and other equipment record vital functions, Mayo Clinic explains. Normally, the procedure is painless, but patients often feel tenderness where the catheter was inserted. Health complications are rare, but heart attack, infection, bleeding, stroke, arterial tears and kidney damage are some of the possible risks.