Pulmonary Angiography

Written by Gretchen Holm | Published on July 23, 2012
Medically Reviewed by George Krucik, MD

What Is a Pulmonary Angiography?

An angiography, sometimes called an arteriography, is a way for doctors to see your arteries. Normally, arteries don’t show up on X-rays. In this procedure, you will receive an injection of a contrast dye. When this material is injected into your arteries, they can be seen on X-ray images.

A pulmonary angiography is typically performed to see if a blood clot has formed in your lungs. It is also used to evaluate the health and structure of the blood vessels in the lungs.

How Should I Prepare for a Pulmonary Angiography?

Your doctor will give you specific instructions about how to prepare for your procedure. Generally, you will need to fast before the test. Usually, this is for six to eight hours beforehand. This can help you avoid vomiting or feeling nauseated during the procedure.

Provide your doctor with any medical information that he or she does not have already. For example, you should tell your doctor if you are pregnant, as X-rays could be harmful to the fetus. You should also let your doctor know about any medications you are taking or any known allergies.

How Is a Pulmonary Angiography Performed?

You will receive an intravenous sedative. This helps you relax during the procedure.

Your doctor will insert a tube, called a catheter, into one of your veins. This is typically done in your groin, even though the procedure involves your lungs.

Your doctor will then guide the catheter through your blood vessels until it reaches the arteries that take blood to your lungs. When the catheter is in place, your doctor will inject the contrast dye.

He or she will take X-ray images of your chest. These images show the paths and progress of the dye. This helps your doctor figure out whether you have blockage or other problems in your arteries.

When Is a Pulmonary Angiography Used?

Your doctor may perform a pulmonary angiography if he or she suspects that you have a blockage or structural problem with your pulmonary (lung) vessels.

For example, you might have a clot or a pulmonary artery aneurysm. Alternatively, you may have been born with narrow blood vessels in and around your lungs. A pulmonary angiography can help your doctor identify and diagnose these issues.

In many cases, your doctor may choose to use CT angiography instead of pulmonary angiography. According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, pulmonary angiographies are rarely performed anymore in favor of CT angiographies. (Hopkins)

If it turns out that you have a clot, your doctor may choose to treat it as part of this procedure.

What Are the Risks of a Pulmonary Angiography?

Serious complications from this procedure are rare. According to the Georgia Health Sciences University, only about 0.5 percent of patients who undergo this procedure experience life-threatening complications. (GHSU)

If you are pregnant, the radiation involved with the X-rays in this treatment may carry some risk for your fetus. Discuss this possibility with your doctor before your procedure.

Several of the risks of the procedure are related to the contrast dye. You may have an allergic reaction, for example. Rarely, you might experience kidney damage from this material. In most cases, kidney issues are temporary rather than permanent.

Other risks are related to the catheter. Your nerves or blood vessels may be injured as the catheter is inserted. Rarely, the catheter can cause a disturbance in the rhythm of your heart. In rare cases, the catheter may perforate your heart.

Your doctor is aware of these risks and will be ready to treat them if they occur.

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