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What is a coronary angiogram?
An angiogram is an X-ray image of blood vessels after they are filled with a contrast material. An angiogram of the heart, a coronary angiogram, is the "gold standard" for the evaluation of coronary artery disease (CAD). A coronary angiogram can be used to identify the exact location and severity of CAD.
How is a coronary angiogram performed?
Coronary angiography is performed with the use of local anesthesia and intravenous sedation, and is generally not significantly uncomfortable.
- In performing a coronary angiogram, a doctor inserts a small catheter (a thin hollow tube with a diameter of 2-3 mm) through the skin into an artery 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.
- The procedure takes approximately 20-30 minutes.
- After the procedure, the catheter is removed and the artery in the leg or arm is either sutured, "sealed," or treated with manual compression to prevent bleeding.
- Often, if an angioplasty orstent is indicated, it will be performed as part of the same procedure.
What does a coronary angiogram demonstrate?
Angiographic images accurately reveal the extent and severity of all coronary artery blockages. For patients with severe angina or heart attack (myocardial infarction), or those who have markedly abnormal noninvasive tests for CAD (such as stress tests), the angiogram also helps the doctor select the optimal treatment. Treatments may then include medications, balloon angioplasty, coronary stenting, atherectomy ("roto-rooter"), or coronary artery bypass surgery.
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Angina SymptomsAngina is chest pain due to inadequate blood supply to the heart. Angina symptoms may include chest tightness, burning, squeezing, and aching. Coronary artery disease is the main cause of angina but there are other causes. Angina is diagnosed by taking the patient's medical history and performing tests such as an electrocardiogram (EKG), blood test, stress test, echocardiogram, cardiac CT scan, and heart catheterization. Treatment of angina usually includes lifestyle modification, medication, and sometimes, surgery. The risk of angina can be reduced by following a heart healthy lifestyle.
Aortic StenosisAortic valve stenosis is an abnormal narrowing of the aortic valve of the heart. The causes of aortic stenosis are wear and tear of the valve in the elderly, congenital, or scarring or scarring of the aortic valve from rheumatic fever. Symptoms include angina, fainting, and shortness of breath. Treatment is dependant upon the severity of the condition.
Atrial fibrillation (AF or AFib) is an abnormality in the heart rhythm which involves irregular and often rapid beating of the heart. Symptoms may include heart palpitations, dizziness, fainting, fatigue, shortness of breath, and chest pain.
Atrial fibrillation treatment may include medication or procedures like cardioversion or ablation to normalize the heart rate.
Cholesterol ManagementHigh cholesterol and triglyceride levels increase the risk of cardiovascular disease. Getting your cholesterol and triglyceride levels in an optimal range will help protect your heart and blood vessels. Cholesterol management may include lifestyle interventions (diet and exercise) as well as medications to get your total cholesterol, LDL, HDL, and triglycerides in an optimal range.
Coronary AngioplastyBalloon angioplasty of the coronary artery and stents (percutaneous coronary intervention, PCI) is a non-surgical procedure that relieves narrowing and obstruction of the arteries to the muscle of the heart. PCI can relieve chest pain (angina), minimize or stop a heart attack, or improve the prognosis of patients with unstable angina. The availability of stainless steel stents have expanded the spectrum of patients suitable for PCI.
Coronary Artery Bypass GraftCoronary artery bypass graft (CABG) surgery is performed to relieve angina in individuals who have failed medical therapy and are not good candidates for angioplasty (PTCA). CABG surgery is ideal for individuals with multiple narrowings in multiple coronary artery branches. Mortality and complications increase with:
- older age,
- poor heart muscle function,
- disease obstructing the left main coronary artery,
- chronic kidney failure,
- and chronic lung disease.
Coronary Artery Disease Screening Tests (CAD)
Coronary heart disease or coronary heart disease (CAD) screening tests can be used to potentially prevent a heart attack or cardiac event in a person without heart disease symptoms, and can assist in diagnosing heart disease in individuals with heart disease symptoms. Examples of coronary heart disease tests include:
- electrocardiogram (ECC, EKG),
- exercise stress test,
- radionuclide stress test,
- stress echocardiography,
- pharmacologic stress test,
- CT coronary angiogram, and
- coronary angiogram.
Exercise Stress TestStress tests are performed by a doctor or trained technician to determine the amount of stress that your heart can manage before developing either an abnormal rhythm or evidence of ischemia. Your doctor uses the stress test to determine if there is adequate blood flow to your heart during increasing levels of activity, evaluate the effectiveness of your heart medications to control angina and ischemia, determine the likelihood of having coronary heart disease and the need for further evaluation, check the effectiveness of procedures done to improve blood flow within the heart vessels in people with coronary heart disease, identify abnormal heart rhythms, and to help you develop a safe exercise program. Preparation for these types of stress tests will vary. Ask your doctor about any specific instructions.
Heart AttackHeart attack happens when a blood clot completely obstructs a coronary artery supplying blood to the heart muscle. A heart attack can cause chest pain, heart failure, and electrical instability of the heart.
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