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Angiography is an imaging technique that can be used to assess the health of your blood vessels and how the blood flows through them.

Angiography is an imaging technique used to assess the health of your blood vessels and how the blood flows through them.

If you have circulation problems, your doctor may recommend that you have angiography to find out what's causing the problem. The results can also help determine suitable treatment options.

Types of angiography

There are several different types of angiography that can be used depending on which area of the body needs to be examined, including:

  • head and neck (cerebral angiography)
  • heart (coronary angiography)
  • lungs (pulmonary angiography)
  • arms and legs (extremity angiography)
  • kidneys (renal angiography)

Cerebral angiography

Cerebral angiography may be used if it's thought that the blood vessels that supply blood to your brain (the carotid arteries) have become narrowed, disrupting the flow of blood. This can be dangerous because it could trigger a stroke or transient ischaemic attack (TIA or mini-stroke).

If you've had a stroke, cerebral angiography can be used to find out if there's a narrowing in the blood vessels. In some cases, it may be able to pinpoint the underlying cause of a stroke.

Cerebral angiography can also help to identify an aneurysm (a bulge in the blood vessel wall in your brain) or a brain tumour. Studying the flow of blood to the tumour can help determine whether it's growing, which can be useful when planning treatment.

Coronary angiography

Coronary angiography may be used if you've had:

  • a heart attack  a serious medical emergency, where the blood supply to the heart is severely reduced or suddenly blocked, usually by a blood clot
  • angina  chest pain that occurs when the blood supply to the heart muscle is restricted

Coronary angiography may also be used if you have a heart condition that requires surgery. It helps to determine the most appropriate type of treatment for you. This could be:

  • coronary angioplasty  a surgical procedure to widen blocked or narrowed coronary arteries using balloons and stents 
  • coronary artery bypass graft  a surgical procedure to divert blood around narrow or clogged arteries using grafts so that blood flow to the heart is improved

Read more about coronary angiography.

Computerised tomography pulmonary angiography

Computerised tomography pulmonary angiography (CTPA) is often used to help diagnose a pulmonary embolism (a blockage in the pulmonary artery in one of your lungs).

CTPA involves injecting contrast agent into the blood vessels of your lungs and then taking a CT scan. If you have a pulmonary embolism, it will show up on the CT scan as a blockage in the blood flow.

Extremity angiography

Extremity angiography may be used if it's thought that the blood supply to your leg muscles has become restricted. This is known as peripheral arterial disease and it causes a range of symptoms, the most common of which is painful cramping when walking.

Imaging tests, such as an ultrasound scan or CT scan, may be used instead of angiography to investigate how severe the condition is.

Renal angiography

Renal angiography may be recommended if you have symptoms that suggest the blood supply to your kidneys has been blocked in some way.

These symptoms include:


Atherosclerosis is a condition where the arteries become narrowed and hardened due to a build-up of fatty materials, such as cholesterol. The narrowing is often referred to as a plaque.

In the early stages, atherosclerosis doesn't usually cause symptoms, so medical tests such as angiograms are carried out when advanced disease is suspected.

Angiography is usually carried out if the symptoms are severe, or initial tests, such as a stress test, suggest that atherosclerosis is likely.

Read more about how atherosclerosis is diagnosed.

Other uses

Angiography can also be used to:

  • locate the site of internal bleeding
  • detect blood clots
  • investigate injuries to organs
  • plan surgery that involves the blood vessels
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Depending on the complexity of the investigation, angiography can take between 30 minutes and two hours.

Depending on the complexity of the investigation, angiography can take between 30 minutes and two hours.

You'll usually be allowed to go home on the same day, although in some cases you may need to stay in hospital overnight.

Angiography is usually a planned procedure. However, it may occasionally be carried out as an emergency  for example, in the case of a heart attack.

For a planned angiography you're likely to have an initial appointment to discuss your health. For example, you may be asked:

  • about your medical history
  • whether you have any allergies
  • whether you're currently taking any medication

You may also have a number of standard tests before having an angiography, including a physical examination and blood tests to check how well organs, such as your kidneys or liver, are working.

Some people choose to take a sedative to help them relax. In this case, you'll be asked not to eat for several hours before the procedure.

The procedure

Most angiography procedures are carried out using local anaesthetic to numb the area where the catheter is going to be inserted. General anaesthetic is sometimes used for young children.

The procedure will be carried out by a specialist, such as a cardiologist (a doctor who specialises in heart disease) or a radiologist (a doctor who specialises in using imaging studies). A nurse may also be present to assist with the procedure.

An intravenous (IV) line will be inserted into a vein in your arm. It can be used to deliver sedatives or any other medication as required. Electrodes (small, metallic discs) may be placed on your chest to record your heartbeat. A blood pressure monitor may also be attached to your arm.

A small plastic tube called a sheath will be placed into one of your arteries. A catheter (a long, thin flexible tube) is inserted through the sheath and on to the arteries being examined. Depending on the area being examined, the catheter is usually inserted into an artery in your wrist or groin.

X-rays are used to help guide the catheter to the right place. Contrast agent will then be injected through the catheter and a series of X-rays will be taken. This will allow a map of the arteries to be created.

The procedure isn't painful but you may feel a slightly warm sensation, or a mild burning sensation, as the contrast agent moves through your blood vessels. It can take between 30 minutes and two hours to complete the procedure, depending on the complexity of your condition and what the radiologist finds.

In some cases, other procedures can be carried at the same time, such as inserting a balloon or a small tube called a stent through the catheter to open up a narrowed artery. This is known as angioplasty.

Once the procedure has been completed, the catheter is removed and the incision is closed using manual pressure, a plug or a clamp.


Following angiography, you'll be taken to a recovery ward. You'll be asked to lie still for a few hours, to prevent bleeding at the site of the incision.

Most people are able to leave hospital on the same day as the procedure. However, occasionally, it may be necessary for you to stay in overnight for observation. You'll be able to eat and drink as soon as you feel ready to, but it may take eight to 12 hours before you're well enough to resume normal activities.

Depending on what the cardiologist or radiologist finds during the angiography, they may be able to discuss your results with you shortly after the procedure. Alternatively, they may write a report and send it to your GP.

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Minor complications can occur after an angiography, but serious complications are rare.

Minor complications can occur after an angiography, but serious complications are rare.

Minor complications include:

  • bleeding or bruising at the site of the incision
  • infection at the incision site – which may need to be treated with antibiotics
  • a mild to moderate allergic reaction to the contrast agent  this can usually be controlled using anti-allergy medication

More serious complications can include:

  • kidney damage (usually temporary)
  • heart attack 
  • stroke
  • blood vessel damage requiring further surgery 
  • a serious life-threatening allergic reaction (anaphylaxis) to the contrast agent
  • death

These serious complications are rare. For example, an estimated 1 in 1,000 people will have a stroke as a result of having angiography, and approximately 1 in 50,000 to 150,000 people will experience anaphylaxis.

Angiography is recommended when the benefit of having the procedure is believed to outweigh any potential risk.

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