What Is Aortic Angiography?

Aortic angiography, or an angiogram, is a procedure to test for defects and functional problems in your aorta, your largest artery. Your aorta begins in the left ventricle of your heart and extends to your abdomen. It’s responsible for delivering oxygen-rich blood to your entire body.

During the procedure, your doctor will inject a special dye into your arteries. Then they’ll use X-rays to look for potential problems with your aorta. The dye enhances visibility to help doctors identify defects and blood flow abnormalities.

Your doctor may order an aortic angiography if they suspect any problems with your aorta. Problems can include:

  • aneurysm, a ballooning-out of the aorta
  • aortic dissection, when bleeding occurs in the walls of the aorta
  • aortic regurgitation or aortic stenosis, when blood returns back to the ventricle
  • congenital heart defects, such as double aortic arch
  • inflammation of the aorta, also called 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 MRIs, CT scans, or ultrasounds.

Like any surgical procedure, an aortic angiography carries some risk, including the possibility of infection or complications with bleeding and clotting. The Mayo Clinic reports that major complications are rare with angiography. Possible risks 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.

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

Your doctor will give you specific instructions on how to prepare for the test. This typically includes fasting for 12 hours before the procedure, limiting liquids, and stopping any medications that affect blood clotting.

Also, your doctor or nurse will give you sedatives and possibly anesthesia via an IV. They’ll apply painkillers to the spot in your groin where your doctor will make an incision for the catheter. You will most likely remain awake during the procedure.

To perform this procedure, your doctor will inject a dye into your arteries in order to view them by X-ray. Your doctor will make a small incision in your groin and install a short plastic tube called a sheath to keep the incision open. Through this hole, your doctor will insert a thin tube, or catheter, and guide it up through your arteries into your aorta.

You shouldn’t feel any pain when the catheter is inserted since there are no nerve endings in your arteries.

When your doctor reaches the appropriate part of your aorta, they will release dye through the catheter. As the dye is released, your doctor will watch how it travels through your arteries on X-ray, looking for any blockages, changes in the aorta, or abnormal blood flow.

The angiogram takes about an hour. Once the catheter is removed, pressure will be applied to the area to prevent excessive bleeding and a 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 the aortic angiography, you may be able to go home the same day. If there are complications, you may need to stay in the hospital, though complications are rare.

This test offers immediate results. Your doctor will tell you what they found during the angiogram and if you need other tests or procedures.

When you go home, you will need to care for the incision and your doctor may give you other care instructions. Bleeding from the incision site and infection of the area are the most common complications. You may need to avoid driving or heavy lifting for a few days, but recovery should be quick and you should be able to resume normal activities.