Aortic Angiography

Written by Brian Krans | Published on May 31, 2012
Medically Reviewed by George Krucik, MD

Aortic angiography is a procedure that uses dye and radiography to detect problems with blood flow through the aorta. The aorta is the body’s largest artery. It begins in the left ventricle and extends to the abdomen, and is responsible for delivering oxygen-rich blood to the entire body.

Aortic angiography or an angiogram can detect a number of defects and functional problems involving the aorta. The use of dye with the radiography serves to enhance the visibility in order to identify both fixed defects and blood flow abnormalities.

Why Aortic Angiography Is Done

Your doctor may order an aortic angiography if he or she suspects there could be problems with your aorta. Problems could include:

  • aneurysm—a ballooning out of the aorta
  • aortic dissection—bleeding into the walls of the aorta
  • aortic regurgitation or aortic stenosis- blood returning to the ventricle or
  • congenital heart defects, such as double aortic arch
  • inflammation of the aorta (Takayasu’s arteritis)
  • injury to the aorta from trauma or other problems
  • peripheral artery disease
  • recurring chest pain

Angiograms are typically done as a follow-up to other (noninvasive) tests, such as MRI, CT scan, or ultrasound.

The Risks of Aortic Angiography

Any surgical procedure carries some risk, including the possibility of infection or complications with bleeding, such as clotting problems. The Mayo Clinic reports that major complications are rare with angiography (Mayo Clinic). Possible risks of aortic angiography include:

  • allergic reaction to the dye
  • blockage of the artery
  • blood clots
  • bruising
  • heart attack
  • infection
  • injury to the aorta
  • irregular heart rhythms
  • kidney damage
  • stroke
  • tear in the artery

Keep in mind that major problems are rare.

How to Prepare for Aortic Angiography

Before the test, your doctor will complete a full physical examination. This will include checking your blood pressure and other vital signs. Tell your doctor about any and all medications or supplements you are taking, including nonprescription and over-the-counter drugs.

Your doctor will give you specific instructions about what you should do prior to the test. This typically includes fasting for 12 hours before the procedure, limiting liquids, and stopping any medications that affect blood clotting.

Prior to the surgery, you will change into a hospital gown. A nurse may shave a small patch of hair from your leg by the groin. You’ll also be given sedatives and possibly anesthesia via IV. Painkillers will be injected into the spot in the groin where your doctor will make an incision.

After you’ve been properly prepped, you will be wheeled into a room where your doctor will begin the test.

During most angiograms, you will remain awake during the procedure.

How Aortic Angiography Is Performed

An aortic angiogram takes place under an X-ray machine. You may be strapped to the table because it will be tilted at an angle.

Your doctor will make a small incision in your groin. He or she will then install a short plastic tube called a “sheath” to keep the wound open. Through this hole, your doctor will insert a thin tube known as a catheter. He or she will guide the catheter up through your arteries and into your aorta.

Since there are no nerve endings in your arteries, you shouldn’t feel any pain when the catheter is inserted. If you feel pain or discomfort, tell your doctor.

When your doctor reaches the appropriate part of your aorta, he or she will release dye through the catheter. As the dye is released, your doctor will watch how it travels through your arteries on the X-ray machine. Your doctor is looking for any blockages or changes in the aorta. The goal is to check whether blood is flowing normally everywhere it should, and to determine if there are any blockages.

An angiogram should take about an hour. Once the catheter is removed, pressure will be applied to the area to stop bleeding and a tight bandage will be applied. Afterward, you’ll recover in a separate room, and will have to lie flat for several hours to prevent bleeding. You will be monitored to ensure there aren’t any complications, and will be given plenty of fluids to help flush the dye out of your system.

After Aortic Angiography

After the aortic angiography, you may be able to go home the same day. However, you will need to stay in the hospital if there are complications or you need emergency surgery.

This test offers immediate results. Therefore your doctor will immediately be able to let you know what was found during the angiogram and if other tests or procedures are needed.

When you go home you will need to care for the incision. You will be given instructions that show you how to keep it clean and when to change the bandages.

Your doctor may also give you other care instructions. You may need to avoid driving or heavy lifting for a few days.

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