What to expect from a peripheral angiography

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A peripheral angiography, or peripheral angiogram, is a minimally invasive imaging test to detect blood flow issues and narrowed arteries. The test gives you and your healthcare provider essential information to help lower your risk of a heart attack, stroke, or another significant health event down the road.

What are peripheral angiograms?

A type of specialized X-ray, peripheral angiograms take images of the arteries that supply blood to the arms, hands, legs, and feet. The images allow your healthcare provider to see if any narrowed or blocked arteries interfere with your blood flow. Sometimes, peripheral angiograms are also called peripheral vascular angiograms or extremity angiograms.

Why you need a peripheral angiograph

Your healthcare provider might order a peripheral vascular angiogram when they think you could have peripheral artery disease (PAD). This condition occurs when blood vessels carrying blood from the heart to the rest of the body narrow. When you have PAD, a buildup of fat and cholesterol called plaque collects on the walls of the arteries, making it difficult for blood to get through.

Often, PAD doesn’t have symptoms. However, it can cause:

  • A weak pulse in the feet or legs
  • Blue or pale skin
  • Decreased leg hair or slow toenail growth
  • Erectile dysfunction
  • Heaviness, numbness, or pain in the legs, especially when active
  • One leg to feel cooler than the other
  • Sores or wounds on the feet or legs that heal poorly or slowly

Even without symptoms, PAD can increase the risk of a heart attack or stroke. A severely blocked artery might also cause tissue damage, which could eventually lead to amputation. A peripheral angiogram helps your healthcare provider spot areas of concern before they become life- or limb-threatening.

Preparing for a peripheral angiography

Generally, you’ll need to avoid eating or drinking for about six to eight hours before your angiogram. Tell your healthcare provider about all dietary supplements, over-the-counter and prescription medications, and vitamins you take. You might need to stop taking one or more of these before your test.

Make sure your provider knows if you’re pregnant or have:

  • A history of bleeding issues
  • Allergies, especially to contrast dye, iodine, latex, or any medications

Plan to have a friend or family member drive you home after your test.

What to expect on the day of the test

Once you’re checked in and have been called back for your procedure, a nurse will insert an intravenous line, or IV, into your arm to give you fluids and medication during the peripheral angiogram.

For the test, you’ll lie flat on a special table. Your provider will clean and shave the skin around the procedure site, usually near the groin. In most cases, you’ll stay awake but will be given local anesthesia to numb the area.

Next, your provider will make a tiny needle puncture and thread a thin tube called a catheter into your artery. They’ll inject a small amount of contrast dye through the catheter to make your blood vessels stand out on the X-ray images.

After the X-rays are taken, you’ll move to a recovery room. A nurse will apply pressure to the puncture site for about 10 to 20 minutes to prevent severe bleeding. A care team member will monitor you for a few hours to ensure you’re recovering well. Peripheral angiograms are generally safe, but there are some risks, including a blood clot or an allergic reaction to the contrast dye.

Once you’re home:

  • Avoid driving for at least two more days.
  • Drink plenty of fluids to flush out the dye and stay hydrated.
  • Follow your provider’s orders for restarting medications.
  • Slowly increase your daily activities back to your typical level.

Next steps

The next steps after your peripheral angiography depend on your results. If the test reveals narrowed or blocked arteries, your healthcare provider could recommend medication, a minimally invasive procedure called a peripheral angioplasty to open up narrow arteries, and lifestyle changes, including:

  • Avoiding or quitting smoking
  • Eating a heart-healthy diet
  • Exercising regularly
  • Learning new ways to manage stress
  • Participating in cardiac rehabilitation

Ready to learn more about your heart health? Schedule an appointment with a Reid Health heart and vascular care specialist.

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