Angiography and angioplasty are two different medical procedures that are related to the blood vessels. While angiography is used to investigate or examine your blood vessels for a potential heart condition, angioplasty involves widening the narrowed arteries to treat the condition.
What Is Angiography?
The process of examining arterial blood vessels to check for blockages in blood circulation is called angiography. The images or readings resulting from this process are called an angiogram. During angiography, a special dye called a ‘contrast medium’ is injected through a fine tube or catheter into the artery of the groin or arm. This highlights any potential problems in the blood vessels, and X-rays are immediately taken to determine a further course of action by the doctors.
An angiographic procedure is generally a safe and painless procedure that can take about 30 minutes to two hours. There are few risks associated with the process. While it is common to notice some bruising or soreness for a week or two after the angiography, rare complications such as a severe allergy to the dye, dizziness or shortness of breath, stroke, or kidney damage due to internal bleeding, can also take place. However, these side effects are temporary and can be treated.
An angiography may be considered in the following situations:
- When you have angina or chest pain caused by reduced blood flow to the heart
- To detect atherosclerosis or narrowing of the arteries that can lead to a stroke or a heart attack
- To plan invasive procedures for widening blocked or narrow blood vessels
- To identify peripheral arterial disease where the blood supply to the legs is restricted
- To diagnose blockages in blood supply to the kidneys or lungs (pulmonary embolism)
What Is Angioplasty?
In the event of a blockage in your artery, your doctor may suggest an angioplasty procedure in order to avoid major surgery. Here again, the catheter or tiny tube is inserted through the arterial blockage. A special balloon on the catheter is inflated at the site using water pressure that is higher than the blood pressure, thus relieving the blockage and allowing more blood to flow through. The balloon is then deflated and withdrawn. This is commonly known as balloon angioplasty.
The doctor or radiologist may have to repeat this process several times until the blockage in your artery is clear. If at this stage, the blockage is still not cleared, the doctor may place a stent within the artery to hold the artery walls apart and improve the blood flow. These stents are made of wire-mesh metal that is sometimes coated with medication to keep the artery open.
If you suffer from multiple arterial blockages or have other health conditions such as diabetes, you may be advised to go for a coronary artery bypass surgery, where a blood vessel from another part of your body is used to bypass the blocked site of your artery.
Just like angiography, angioplasty is a safe process and has minimal side effects, but there is some risk of damage to the blood vessels. Other complications may include:
- A severely narrow passage that is impossible to manoeuvre despite many attempts at inflating the balloon.
- Restenosis, or re-narrowing of the artery when a stent is not used.
- A higher risk of bleeding than in an angiography.
- Risk of a failed angioplasty procedure requiring urgent surgery.
As in an angiography, rare complications include the risk of a heart attack during the angioplasty, coronary artery damage, kidney problems, stroke or abnormal heart rhythms that may require a pacemaker.
After a successful angioplasty procedure, you will generally recover within the week and will be allowed to go home. You will also be prescribed blood-thinning medication indefinitely.
It is advisable to drink plenty of fluids in order to flush out the dye from your body. Your doctor may also advise you against lifting heavy weights during the time of recovery, and limit your smoking or alcohol consumption to avoid the risk of complications. Keep your doctor updated about your progress, and call for medical help if the site where the catheter was inserted starts swelling, bleeding, changes colour, or if you feel weak, faint, or develop chest pain.