Angiography is a procedure used to make pictures of blood vessels, including those of the head, kidneys, heart, arms, legs or lungs.

A dye (contrast medium) is injected into the artery so that the blood vessels can be seen.

Angiography can be performed using:

  • an x-ray with catheters (tubes) (called catheter-angiography)
  • computed tomography (called CT-angiography)
  • magnetic resonance imaging (called MRI-angiography)

Angiography may also be called arteriography.

Why angiography is done

Angiography may be done to see how the blood flows through the blood vessels. It is not commonly used to diagnose cancer. But for certain types of cancer, it may be used to:

  • view the blood supply of a tumour in the brain, spinal cord or kidney
  • see how far the cancer has spread (staging)
  • help plan treatment, including embolization or chemoembolization

How catheter-angiography is done

Angiography may be done in the hospital or a specialized medical imaging centre. You usually don’t stay overnight. The test usually takes 1 hour, but it may take longer.

You may be asked not to eat or drink anything for several hours before the angiogram.

Before you have an angiogram, it is important to tell the doctor if you are pregnant or think you may be pregnant. It is important that you tell the doctor if you are breastfeeding.

You will be asked to remove clothing, jewellery and other objects that may interfere with the test. Before the test starts, you may be given medicine to help you relax and stay still during the test.

You will lie very still on an exam table and may be given a local anesthetic to help numb the area. A thin, flexible tube is inserted in a blood vessel, usually an artery in the groin. The tube is then moved through the blood vessel until it reaches the area to be studied. A dye is injected through the tube. X-rays or scans are then taken. The tube is removed and the doctor or nurse covers the area with a bandage and applies pressure to prevent bleeding.

Side effects

The side effects of having angiography are related to injecting the dye and depend on the type of angiogram being done. These side effects may include:

  • bleeding, infection and pain at the tube site
  • a reaction to the dye
  • kidney damage (very small risk)
  • damage to the blood vessels from the tube (very small risk)
  • blood clots on the tube, which could then block blood vessels elsewhere in the body

What the results mean

Your doctor will talk to you about the results of the angiogram and may recommend more tests, procedures, follow-up care or treatments.

Special considerations for children

Preparing children before a test or procedure can help lower their anxiety, increase their cooperation and develop their coping skills. This includes explaining to children what will happen during the test, such as what they will see, feel and hear.

Preparing a child for angiography depends on the age and experience of the child. Find out more about helping your child cope with tests and treatment.

Expert review and references

Medical disclaimer

The information that the Canadian Cancer Society provides does not replace your relationship with your doctor. The information is for your general use, so be sure to talk to a qualified healthcare professional before making medical decisions or if you have questions about your health.

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