What Is an Extremity Arteriography?

An arteriography helps your doctor understand how your arteries function 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, your doctor injects dye into your arteries. They then take 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, your doctor examines the arteries in your 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.

Your doctor might order this test if they suspect 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’re 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

Tell your doctor if you’re pregnant or think you might be pregnant. Low-levels of radiation during the X-ray can be dangerous for a developing fetus.

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’re taking. They 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.

You will lie on your back on an X-ray table. Your doctor will clean a section of skin. They 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 then insert a needle into an artery. They will thread a thin tube through this needle. From there, they will guide the tube (called a catheter) through your artery to the area to be examined.

After positioning the catheter, your doctor will inject a special dye. They 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.

During this test, your doctor may be able to immediately fix the problem. 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)

Any time you get an X-ray, you receive some low-level radiation exposure. However, these levels of radiation aren’t generally dangerous. If you’re pregnant or breast-feeding, 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 breast-feeding.

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

Your doctor 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 the insertion was in 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.

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

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

Your doctor will review your X-ray images and discuss the results, as well as any necessary treatments, with you.