An arteriogram is a procedure that produces an image of your arteries. Your doctor will use dye (called “contrast material”) and X-rays to observe the flow of blood through your arteries and observe any blockage.
This procedure, also known as an angiogram, can be done on many different parts of the body. The terms “arteriogram” and “angiogram” (and the related “arteriography” and “angiography”) are not specific to a particular part of the body. They simply refer to a particular method of observing your arteries.
The word(s) preceding “arteriogram” or “angiogram” lets you know which part of the body will be involved in the test. An aortic arteriogram, for example, observes the blood flow through the aorta.
This list of different types of arteriograms, put together by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), can give you a sense of how broadly this procedure can be used. The information in parentheses after each item explains which part of the body is involved (NIH):
- aortic angiography (aorta)
- cerebral angiography (brain)
- coronary angiography (heart)
- extremity arteriography (extremities; arms, legs, hands, and/or feet)
- fluorescein angiography (parts of the eye: the retina and choroid)
- pulmonary angiography (lungs)
- renal arteriography (kidneys)
How to prepare for your arteriogram depends on the body part involved. For example, your doctor will let you know whether or not to eat or drink before the test. The required fasting time depends on the type of arteriogram being done.
It is important to let your doctor know in advance if you are taking any medications because you may need to stop taking those that affect blood clotting, such as aspirin or blood-thinning medications. You may also need to stop smoking before the procedure.
Tell your doctor about any known allergies you have to medications, shellfish, iodine, or X-ray contrast material. You should also let your doctor know if you have any history of problems with blood clotting. Don’t forget to tell your doctor if you are pregnant.
The details of your procedure depend on the body part involved. During a cerebral angiogram, for example, your head will be held in place in order to produce a clear image during the procedure.
However, the general procedure is similar in some ways. You may be offered a sedative. You will then sit or lie down for the rest of the procedure.
A doctor will insert a catheter into a vein or artery, typically in your leg. The doctor may need to guide this catheter through your blood vessels to reach the correct area. He or she will inject the contrast material into the catheter. The dye will then flow into the surrounding arteries.
Your doctor will use X-ray images to follow the path of the dye through your arteries. This helps reveal any blockages. The procedure can also reveal arterial damage or narrowing.
The catheter will already be in the vicinity of any blockage that may be found, so your doctor may use the catheter to treat the issue during the procedure. For example, your doctor may administer medication through the catheter to resolve a blood clot.
An arteriogram can help doctors detect several conditions and abnormalities. These include:
- narrowing of blood vessels
Your doctor will use the findings to help figure out how best to treat your particular condition.
General risks of any arteriogram include pain, bleeding, or even infection at the place where the catheter was inserted. Other general risks include an allergic reaction to or kidney damage from the dye used. Some patients may also experience blood clots or damage to blood vessels.
Specific types of arteriograms can carry risks other than those described for any arteriogram. For example, although rare, a coronary arteriography might lead to low blood pressure, a stroke, or a heart attack. According to the NIH, serious complications from a coronary angiography occur in one in 500 to one in 1,000 cases (NIH).
After the doctor removes the catheter, pressure must be applied to the insertion site.
Depending on the location of the insertion site and the type of arteriogram, you might need to lie on your back or keep a specific body part still for up to several hours after the procedure.
Your doctor will give you specific instructions regarding physical activity and wound care. In general, you should avoid strenuous physical activity for up to a week. You should also keep the bandage on the insertion site dry for approximately two days.