- A Visual Guide to Heart Disease
- Medical Illustrations of the Heart Image Collection
- Take the Heart Disease Quiz!
- Patient Comments: Coronary Heart Disease - Type of Test
- Patient Comments: Coronary Heart Disease Screening Tests - Symptoms
- Find a local Cardiologist in your town
- What is coronary heart disease?
- What is the purpose of screening tests for coronary heart disease?
- What are common initial screening tests for coronary heart disease?
- Exercise cardiac stress test (treadmill stress test or ECST)
- Radionuclide stress test
- Stress echocardiography
- Pharmacologic stress test
- Are there other tests for coronary heart disease that are noninvasive?
- What is the most accurate method of defining coronary heart disease?
- Coronary angiography
Quick GuideHeart Disease: Symptoms, Signs, and Causes
What is the most accurate method of defining coronary heart disease?
The "gold standard" for the evaluation of coronary heart disease remains the coronary angiogram. Coronary angiography can be used to identify the exact location and severity of coronary heart disease; it is described below.
During a coronary angiogram (also termed a coronary catheterization), a small catheter (a thin hollow tube with a diameter of 2-3 mm) is inserted through the skin into an artery usually in either the groin or the arm. Guided with the assistance of a fluoroscope (a special X-ray viewing instrument), the catheter is then advanced to the opening of the coronary arteries, the blood vessels supplying blood to the heart. Next, a small amount of radiographic contrast (a solution containing iodine, which is easily visualized with X-ray images) is injected into each coronary artery. The images that are produced are called the angiogram.
Angiographic images accurately reveal the extent and severity of all coronary arterial blockages. Coronary angiography is performed with the use of local anesthesia and intravenous sedation, and is generally not terribly uncomfortable. The procedure takes approximately 20 to 30 minutes. After the procedure, the catheter is removed and the artery in the leg or arm is sutured, "sealed," or treated with manual compression to prevent bleeding. There is a small risk of serious complications from coronary angiography, as it is an "invasive" test, but in the hands of experienced physicians, this risk is quite small (well below one per cent). In appropriate patients, the therapeutic information learned from the angiogram is far more valuable than the relatively small risk of the procedure.
For patients with severe angina or heart attack (myocardial infarction), or those who have markedly abnormal noninvasive tests for coronary heart disease, the angiogram also helps the doctor select the optimal treatment, which may include medications, balloon angioplasty, coronary stent placement, or coronary bypass surgery. The coronary angiogram is the only test which allows the precise quantification of the extent and severity of coronary heart disease to optimally make these treatment decisions.