What Is a Coronary Angiogram?

Updated:Feb 8,2013
The coronary arteries supply your heart muscle with blood. They can become clogged from a buildup of cholesterol, cells or other substances (plaque). This can reduce the flow of blood to your heart. If a blood clot forms and blocks blood flow through that artery, a heart attack may occur.

Why do I need this test?

A coronary angiogram is a special X-ray test. It’s done to find out if your coronary arteries are blocked or narrowed, where and by how much. An angiogram can help your doctor see if you need treatment such as angioplasty or stent, coronary artery bypass surgery (CABG) or medical therapy.

Procedures aren't necessary for all blockages. Sometimes all you need to do is take medicines and:
  • Lower your blood pressure.
  • Stop smoking.
  • Reduce the cholesterol in your blood.
  • Eat a healthy diet.
  • Stay physically active.

What happens during an angiogram?
  • You may be given medicine to relax you, but you will stay awake.
  • You go to the hospital’s heart catheterization laboratory (“cath lab”).
  • You lie on a table near a camera and other equipment.
  • Your doctor numbs a spot on your groin or arm and inserts a thin tube (catheter) into an artery and up to the heart. This will hurt no more than a blood test.
  • Special fluid goes through the catheter so arteries show up well on the X-ray.
  • X-rays are taken as the fluid goes through the artery.
  • You may be asked to hold your breath or cough.
  • By studying the X-ray images, the doctor can see any problems with your coronary arteries.
  • If you wish, you can see the X-ray pictures on the screen during or after the test.
What might I feel?
  • Slight pressure as the catheter is put in
  • Rarely, some chest discomfort as the fluid goes in
  • An urge to urinate
  • Rarely, nausea
  • If a picture of the heart’s main pumping chamber is taken (and it’s taken during about 2/3 of angiograms), you’ll feel a hot flash sensation from head to toe that will last for 20 seconds as the special fluid is injected.
  • During the angiogram, you’ll be awake so you can do as your doctor asks.
What happens after the test?
  • The catheter will be taken out.
  • A nurse or doctor will apply direct pressure for 15 minutes or longer where the catheter was inserted to make sure there is no internal bleeding.
  • You will be asked to lie quietly on your back for several hours. You won’t have to lie on your back if the catheterization was performed from an arm artery.
  • You will go back to your hospital room or Cardiac Care Unit (CCU).
  • You may feel sore where the catheter was inserted or from lying on your back.
  • Your doctor will talk to you about the results.
How can I learn more?

  1. Talk to your doctor, nurse or other healthcare professionals. If you have heart disease or have had a stroke, members of your family also may be at higher risk. It’s very important for them to make changes now to lower their risk.
  2. Call 1-800-AHA-USA1 (1-800-242-8721), or visit heart.org to learn more about heart disease.
  3. For information on stroke, call 1-888-4-STROKE (1-888-478-7653) or visit us online at StrokeAssociation.org.
We have many other fact sheets and educational booklets to help you make healthier choices to reduce your risk, manage disease or care for a loved one. Visit heart.org/answersbyheart to learn more

Knowledge is power, so Learn and Live!


Do you have questions or comments for your doctor or nurse?


Take a few minutes to write your own questions for the next time you see your healthcare provider. For example:

How long do I stay in the hospital?

Will I need surgery?


©2012, American Heart Association

Multi-language Fact Sheet Topics

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What is an Arrhythmia?
What Is Atrial Fibrillation?
How Can I Lower High Cholesterol?
What Do My Cholesterol Levels Mean?
What Are High Blood Cholesterol and Triglycerides?
What Is High Blood Pressure?
How Can I Reduce High Blood Pressure?
High Blood Pressure and Stroke
What Is Diabetes and How Can I Manage It?
How Can I Live With Heart Failure?
What Is Heart Failure?
What Is a Heart Attack?
How Will I Recover From My Heart Attack?
What Are the Warning Signs of Heart Attack?
What Are Heart Disease and Stroke?
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What is Peripheral Vascular Disease?

Stroke, Recovery and Caregiving
Hemorrhagic Stroke
Ischemic Stroke
What Are the Warning Signs of Stroke?
Lifestyle Changes to Prevent Stroke
Stroke Diagnosis
Changes Caused by Stroke
Emotional Changes After Stroke
Feeling Tired After a Stroke
Stroke and Rehabilitation
Stroke Family Caregivers
How Should I Care for Myself as a Caregiver?

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What is High Blood Pressure Medicine?
What Are Anticoagulants and Antiplatelet Agents?
What Is an Implantable Cardioverter Defibrillator?
What Is a Pacemaker?
What Is Coronary Angioplasty?
What is a Stent?
What is Coronary Bypass Surgery?
What is a Coronary Angiogram?
How Can I Recover From Heart Surgery?
What is Carotid Endarterectomy?

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How Can Physical Activity Become a Way of Life?
Why Should I Be Physically Active?
How Do I Follow a Healthy Diet?
Why Should I Limit Sodium?
How Do I Read "Nutrition Facts" Labels?
How Can I Quit Smoking?
How Can I Manage Stress?
How Can I Make My Lifestyle Healthier?
How Can I Monitor My Cholesterol, Blood Pressure and Weight?