Extremity Arteriography

Written by Gretchen Holm | Published on June 1, 2012
Medically Reviewed by George Krucik, MD

What Is an Extremity Arteriography?

An arteriography helps your doctor understand how your arteries are functioning and if there are any problems, such as blood clots, injured blood vessels, or an artery disease. “Arterio” refers to arteries, and “graphy” refers to the process of recording something.

During an arteriography, a healthcare provider injects dye into your arteries. He or she then takes X-ray images. The dye shows up in the images, allowing your doctor to see any blockage or narrowing in your arteries.

In extremity arteriography, the arteries being examined are in the extremities. These are your hands, feet, arms, or legs. In some cases, you might hear a more specific term, such as “lower-extremity arteriography” (LEA) which involves your feet or legs. “Upper-extremity arteriography” involves your hands or arms.

Why Doctors Perform an Extremity Arteriography

Your doctor might order this test if he or she suspects that you have a blocked or narrowed blood vessel in your hand, foot, arm, or leg. Possible symptoms include:

  • night cramps
  • pain in your hand, foot, arm, or leg
  • pain or discomfort when you are using your arms or legs
  • sensitivity to cold in the affected area
  • tingling in your feet or toes
  • weak or absent pulse in the affected area

Preparing for an Extremity Arteriography

Tell your doctor if you are or think you might be pregnant.

Your doctor will tell you not to eat or drink anything for a certain period of time before the test. This is typically six to eight hours.

Make sure your doctor knows all of the medications you are taking. He or she might require that you temporarily stop taking some of them before the procedure.

Let your doctor know if you have any bleeding problems, or if you’ve experienced allergic reactions to:

  • medications
  • X-ray dye (contrast material)
  • iodine substances

At the hospital, you will need to sign a consent form. You must also change into a hospital gown and remove jewelry from the area being examined.

The Extremity Arteriography Procedure

You will lie on your back on an X-ray table. Your healthcare provider will clean a section of skin. He or she might also shave this area, which is often in the groin.

You will receive an injection of numbing medicine in the cleaned area. This injection might sting, but will stop you from feeling worse pain during the procedure.

Your doctor will insert a needle into an artery. He or she will then thread a thin tube through this needle. From there, he or she will guide the tube (called a catheter) through your artery to the area to be examined.

When the catheter is positioned, your doctor will inject a special dye. He or she will take X-ray images as the dye flows through your arteries. The contrast material shows up on the X-rays, which help your doctor see any problems in your arteries.

Possible Additional Treatments During an Extremity Arteriography

During this test, the catheter is placed near the suspected damaged artery. Your doctor may be able to immediately fix the problem. He or she might do one of several things to widen an artery.

Some treatments your doctor might choose to perform during the procedure include:

  • using medicine to dissolve a blood clot
  • using a balloon to open an artery (balloon angioplasty)
  • holding open an artery with a stent (a small tube)

What Do Abnormal Extremity Arteriography Results Mean?

This procedure can find several issues with your arteries and blood vessels. These include:

  • specific diseases such as Buerger’s disease, Takayasu’s disease and artery diseases
  • specific problems such as aneurysms and blood clots
  • general problems such as atherosclerosis, vasculitis, injured blood vessels, and narrowing of the arteries

Risks of the Test

Any time you get an X-ray, you receive some low-level radiation exposure. However, these levels of radiation are not generally thought to be dangerous. If you are pregnant or breastfeeding, talk to your doctor before undergoing an X-ray. Even low-levels of radiation can be dangerous for a developing fetus or a baby who is breastfeeding.

Other possible risks, while rare, include:

  • allergic reaction to the dye (contrast material)
  • blood clot at the insertion site
  • blood clot that travels to your lungs
  • damage to a blood vessel
  • excessive bleeding at the insertion site
  • heart attack
  • hematoma at the insertion site
  • kidney damage from the contrast material
  • stroke
  • nerve injury at the insertion site

After Your Extremity Arteriography

A healthcare provider will apply pressure to the insertion site for 10 to 15 minutes after the procedure. This should help stop the bleeding.

Keep the leg nearest the insertion site straight for six hours after the needle has been removed. If it was inserted into one of your arms instead of your groin, keep that arm straight.

Don’t lift anything heavy or perform any other strenuous activity for one to two full days after your procedure.

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