Your doctor will explain how to prepare for your angiogram. Let them know if you take any medicines and have any health conditions. Don’t stop taking any medicines unless they tell you to.
It’s important that you don't eat or drink anything for a few hours before your angiogram. You’ll be given more details about this but if you have any questions, just ask.
You’ll usually have an angiogram under local anaesthesia. This completely blocks pain from where the catheter enters your artery (in your groin or wrist) and you’ll stay awake during the procedure. Your doctor may give you a sedative too, which relieves anxiety and will help you to relax. You can have an angiogram and go home on the same day. You don’t usually need to stay in hospital.
Your doctor will discuss with you what will happen before, during and after your procedure, and any pain you might have. You’ll be asked to sign a consent form so make sure you take the opportunity to ask questions about anything you’re unsure of.
If you’re pregnant, or think you might be, tell your doctor before your appointment as sometimes it’s better not to have X-rays during pregnancy. This is because your unborn baby could be exposed to the radiation and this could cause problems with its development. Whether or not you have the test will depend on various things, including how serious your heart condition is.
Talk with your doctor to weigh up the benefits and risks for you and your baby to help you decide whether or not to go ahead. It may be possible to have the procedure and stop radiation reaching your baby by protecting your tummy (abdomen) with a lead shield.
It’s possible that the contrast agent (dye) used in an angiogram could cross the placenta and affect your baby. Some types of contrast agent may be safer for you and your baby than others.
If you’re breastfeeding, there’s a small risk that the contrast agent (and other medicines you’re given during an angiogram) could get into your breast milk. This could affect your baby and so you may be advised not to breastfeed for a day or so after your angiogram.
Take the time to talk through everything with your doctor. That way you can make a decision you’re comfortable with based on what’s best for you and your baby.
An angiogram usually takes about half an hour.
A radiologist (a doctor who specialises in using techniques such as X-rays to diagnose conditions) may do your angiogram. Or, a cardiologist (a doctor who specialises in conditions that affect the heart) may do it. A nurse and radiographer will be part of the team that look after you too. A radiographer is a health professional who is trained to take X-rays.
You’ll have your angiogram in a room called a catheter lab. Your nurse will ask you to change into a hospital gown. A heart monitor will record your heart rate and rhythm during the procedure. Tell your nurse if at any time you feel unwell or get any discomfort.
You’ll be asked to lie on a table and an X-ray machine will be positioned above your chest. Your doctor will inject local anaesthetic into your skin where the catheter will enter your artery – this is called the entry site.
Your doctor will thread the catheter into the artery in your groin or your wrist. They will then move it up through your artery to the opening of your coronary arteries. Your doctor will use X-rays of your heart (shown on a screen) to carefully guide the catheter into your heart. When the catheter has reached the right place, your doctor will inject a dye (contrast agent) into the catheter. More X-rays will be done as the dye flows through your arteries and heart, and these show if there is any narrowing in them.
You won’t feel the catheter in your artery but when the dye is injected, you may have a warm feeling throughout your body.
Your doctor will remove the catheter when the test is complete. Either your nurse will press over the entry site for about 20 minutes or you’ll have a small collagen plug inserted to seal your artery. The plug usually dissolves in around 40 days.
If you had the catheter inserted into your wrist, you’ll be given a tight band to wear around your wrist. You’ll need to keep this on for two to three hours after your angiogram.
If your angiogram was done through your groin, you’ll need to lie flat for a few hours so your artery can seal properly. Your nurse will regularly check your blood pressure, heart rate and where the catheter entered. If you had the angiogram through your wrist, you’ll probably be well enough to get up an hour or so after the procedure.
You’ll usually be able to go home when you feel ready but make sure someone can take you.
If a cardiologist did the procedure, they may talk through your results with you before you go home. If a radiologist did your angiogram, they will send a report to the doctor who referred you to have the test or will contact you to discuss your results.
Take it easy for the rest of the day after having an angiogram. And don’t do any vigorous exercise or heavy lifting for about five days.
Keep the dressing over your wound (entry site) for 24 hours. You can then have a shower and carefully remove it.
Having a sedative may cause you to be less coordinated, and you might find it difficult to think clearly. This should pass within 24 hours. In the meantime, don’t drive, drink alcohol, operate machinery or sign anything important.
If you need to – perhaps because you have a holiday booked – you should be able to fly the next day. But be sure to check this with your doctor before having the test.
As with every procedure, there are some risks associated with having an angiogram. We haven’t included the chance of these happening as they are specific to you. Ask your doctor to explain how the risks apply to you.
Side-effects are the unwanted but mostly temporary effects you may get after having the procedure. Side-effects of an angiogram may include:
- mild chest pains or a fluttery heartbeat during the procedure
- bruising and swelling where the catheter entered your artery
Complications are when problems occur during or after the procedure. Possible complications of an angiogram include bleeding during or very soon after the procedure, infection or an unexpected reaction to the local anaesthetic.
Other possible complications of an angiogram are explained here.
- An allergic reaction to the dye. This usually gets better within a day but there are medicines to both help prevent and treat this.
- Kidney damage caused by the dye used in an angiogram. This is usually temporary and your doctor will take steps to minimise this risk, such as making sure you have enough fluids in your body.
- Irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia). This can happen as a result of having a catheter within your heart or because of the dye injection. It will usually settle by the end of the procedure.
- Build-up of blood under your skin (haematoma). This can happen if blood leaks out of the blood vessel during an angiogram. You may need to have the haematoma drained.
- Heart attack or stroke. Very rarely, the tip of the catheter can dislodge a blood clot or fatty plaque from the wall of your blood vessel. There is a risk that these may block the blood supply to your heart or brain and trigger a heart attack or stroke.
It’s possible for an angiogram to be fatal although this is very rare. The risk is higher in people who already have other conditions, such as problems with their lungs or kidneys. Ask your doctor for more information. They will only recommend you have the test if they feel the benefits of having it outweigh any risks.
Is the angiogram procedure the same in children?
The procedure is exactly the same but children sometimes have a general anaesthetic. The staff at the hospital will take every step to care for your child during the procedure.
It’s important not to move during an angiogram. Because young children may find it difficult to keep still for the time the procedure takes, it’s usually done under general anaesthesia. This means your child will be asleep during the angiogram.
The staff doing your child’s angiogram will adjust the radiation doses to your child’s size because children are more sensitive to radiation. The staff will also make sure the type of contrast agent (dye) used and the catheters to deliver the dye are appropriate for your child.
Your child’s doctor will ask you about their health and medical history before the procedure. It’s important to tell them if your child is taking any medicines, or has any allergies or medical conditions.
Although there are risks from having an angiogram, this procedure may be able to diagnose or treat your child’s heart condition quickly and safely. This could mean your child won’t need further procedures, such as surgery.
If you have any concerns, talk to their doctor. Your child may be able to have an alternative procedure.
What type of dye is used during an angiogram?
The dye is a liquid called a contrast agent and it usually contains the chemical iodine. This stops X-rays from passing through your blood vessels so they show up more clearly on the images that are taken.
The heart and blood vessels are difficult to see on X-ray images. Contrast agents (also known as contrast media or dye) are often used to highlight heart muscles and blood vessels, and make them easier to see.
The contrast dye used during an angiogram is usually iodine-based. It’s a liquid and usually you pass it out of your body when you go to the toilet. There’s a small risk of having an allergic reaction to the contrast agent. It’s important to tell your doctor if you have any type of allergy. If you have asthma, you may be more likely to be allergic to the contrast agent too.
As the contrast dye reaches your heart, you may feel a warm, flushing sensation or a fluttery heartbeat. You may also get a metallic taste in your mouth, feel light-headed, sick or itchy. Usually, these symptoms are mild and disappear quickly but do tell your nurse or doctor if you get any of them.
Contrast agents can sometimes cause problems if your kidneys don’t work very well. Be sure to tell whoever is doing your angiogram if you have kidney problems so they can use a different contrast agent. Contrast agents can also cause kidney problems if you take metformin, a common treatment for diabetes. Again, make sure you tell the doctor doing your procedure if you take this medicine.
Why do I need to stop taking warfarin before an angiogram?
Warfarin can increase your risk of bleeding during and after an angiogram.
Warfarin is a medicine that can stop your blood clotting. It can help reduce the chance of your blood clotting if you have a health condition that makes this more likely, such as atrial fibrillation. It helps your blood to flow around your body and stops any clots forming in your heart or blood vessels. This also means that your blood doesn’t clot easily when you bleed.
Your doctor may ask you to stop taking warfarin before your angiogram to reduce your risk of bleeding during, and immediately after the procedure.
Your doctor will give you more information about how to prepare for your angiogram and what medicines you can take.
- British Heart Foundation
0300 330 3311
- Angiography. The Merck Manuals. www.merckmanuals.com, published January 2015
- Cardiac catheterization of the left heart. Medscape. www.emedicine.medscape.com, published 8 April 2014
- Cardiac catheterisation. PatientPlus. www.patient.co.uk/patientplus, reviewed 21 December 2012
- Catheter angiography. Radiological Society of North America. www.radiologyinfo.org, published 12 February 2014
- Therapeutic cardiac catheterizations for children with congenital heart disease. American Heart Association. www.heart.org, published 24 September 2013
- Avila ML, Shah PS, Brandão LR. Different unfractionated heparin doses for preventing arterial thrombosis in children undergoing cardiac catheterization. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2014, Issue 3. doi:10.1002/14651858.CD010196.pub2
- Coronary angiogram. British Heart Foundation. www.bhf.org.uk, accessed 2 March 2015
- Contrast materials. Radiological Society of North America. www.radiologyinfo.org, published 7 March 2013
- Radiation dose in X-ray and CT exams. Radiological Society of North America. www.radiologyinfo.org, published 10 August 2014
- Radiology FAQs. Royal College of Radiologists. www.rcr.ac.uk, accessed 2 March 2015
- Hon LQ, Ganeshan A, Thomas SM, et al. An overview of vascular closure devices: what every radiologist should know. Eur J Radiol 2010; 73(1):181–90. doi:10.1016/j.ejrad.2008.09.023
- Durham KA. Cardiac catheterization through the radial artery. AJN 2012; 112(1):49–56. www.nursingcenter.com
- British Cardiovascular Society. Fitness to fly for passengers with cardiovascular disease. Heart 2010; 96:ii1–ii16. doi:10.1136/hrt.2010.203091
- What is cardiac catheterization? National Heart Lung and Blood Institute. www.nhlbi.nih.gov, published 30 January 2012
- What parents should know about medical radiation safety in pediatric interventional radiology. The Alliance for Radiation Safety in Pediatric Imaging. www.pedrad.org, accessed 2 March 2015
- ACR manual on contrast media. American College of Radiology. www.acr.org, published 2013
- Standards for intravascular contrast agent administration to adult patients. Royal College of Radiologists. www.rcr.ac.uk, published 2010
- Bonow RO, Carabello BA, Chatterjee K, et al. 2008 focused update incorporated into the ACC/AHA 2006 guidelines for the management of patients with valvular heart disease. Circulation 2008; 118:e523–661. doi: 10.1161/CIRCULATIONAHA.108.190748
- Anticoagulation – oral. NICE Clinical Knowledge Summaries. cks.nice.org.uk, published February 2015
- Joint Formulary Committee. British National Formulary (online) London: BMJ Group and Pharmaceutical Press. www.medicinescomplete.com, accessed 3 April 2015
- Angiogram. Society for Vascular Surgery. www.vascularweb.org, published January 2011
- British Heart Foundation
We’d love to know what you think about what you’ve just been reading and looking at – we’ll use it to improve our information. If you’d like to give us some feedback, our short form below will take just a few minutes to complete. And if there's a question you want to ask that hasn't been answered here, please submit it to us. Although we can't respond to specific questions directly, we’ll aim to include the answer to it when we next review this topic.
Let us know what you think using our short feedback form Ask us a question
Reviewed by Rachael Mayfield-Blake, Bupa Health Content Team, April 2015.
Let us know what you think using our short feedback form Ask us a question
About our health information
At Bupa we produce a wealth of free health information for you and your family. We believe that trustworthy information is essential in helping you make better decisions about your health and care. Here are just a few of the ways in which our core editorial principles have been recognised.
Information StandardWe are certified by the Information Standard. This quality mark identifies reliable, trustworthy producers and sources of health information.
HONcodeThis site complies with the HONcode standard for trustworthy health information.
What our readers say about us
But don't just take our word for it; here's some feedback from our readers.
“Simple and easy to use website - not alarming, just helpful.”
“It’s informative but not too detailed. I like that it’s factual and realistic about the conditions and the procedures involved. It’s also easy to navigate to areas that you specifically want without having to read all the information.”
“Good information, easy to find, trustworthy.”
Meet the team
Head of health content and clinical engagement
- Dylan Merkett – Lead Editor- UK Customer
- Nicholas Ridgman – Lead Editor – UK Health and Care Services
- Natalie Heaton – Specialist Editor – User Experience
- Pippa Coulter – Specialist Editor – Content Library
- Alice Rossiter – Specialist Editor – Insights
- Laura Blanks – Specialist Editor – Quality
- Michelle Harrison – Editorial Assistant
Our core principles
All our health content is produced in line with our core editorial principles – readable, reliable, relevant – which are represented by our diagram.
In a nutshell, our information is jargon-free, concise and accessible. We know our audience and we meet their health information needs, helping them to take the next step in their health and wellbeing journey.
We use the best quality and most up-to-date evidence to produce our information. Our process is transparent and validated by experts – both our users and medical specialists.
We know that our users want the right information at the right time, in the way that suits them. So we review our content at least every three years to keep it fresh. And we’re embracing new technology and social media so they can get it whenever and wherever they choose.
Here are just a few of the ways in which the quality of our information has been recognised.
The Information Standard certification scheme
You will see the Information Standard quality mark on our content. This is a certification programme, supported by NHS England, that was developed to ensure that public-facing health and care information is created to a set of best practice principles.
It uses only recognised evidence sources and presents the information in a clear and balanced way. The Information Standard quality mark is a quick and easy way for you to identify reliable and trustworthy producers and sources of information.
Certified by the Information Standard as a quality provider of health and social care information. Bupa shall hold responsibility for the accuracy of the information they publish and neither the Scheme Operator nor the Scheme Owner shall have any responsibility whatsoever for costs, losses or direct or indirect damages or costs arising from inaccuracy of information or omissions in information published on the website on behalf of Bupa.
Plain English Campaign
Our website is approved by the Plain English Campaign and carries their Crystal Mark for clear information. In 2010, we won the award for best website.
Website approved by Plain English Campaign.
British Medical Association (BMA) patient information awards
We have received a number of BMA awards for different assets over the years. Most recently, in 2013, we received a 'commended' award for our online shared decision making hub.
If you have any feedback on our health information, we would love to hear from you. Please contact us via email: email@example.com. Or you can write to us:
Health Content Team
15-19 Bloomsbury Way