Heart failure

Angiograms and angioplasty

An angiogram is a test to find out which arteries supplying the heart have become narrowed. An angiogram uses X-rays to show 'route maps' of blood vessels and arteries in the heart. Angiograms also give detailed information about heart function as well as blood pressure, and oxygen levels in the blood as it passes through the heart. Angioplasty is a procedure to expand narrow arteries that may follow on from an angiogram. Both procedures are done in hospital under local anaesthetic. Many people we talked to had experienced angiograms and a few had had angioplasty.

Most people had been reassured by nurses during an angiogram and said that the dye gave them a warm sensation. Most were pleased to have had the test and one woman said she would have liked an angiogram earlier on in her treatment. Generally the test had not been worrying and people talked about the number of monitors and technicians required for the procedure; one man remarked that his doctors seemed excited about his angiogram and told him he was lucky to be alive. Occasionally people had found the procedure rather uncomfortable and said that keeping still for the length of time required had been tiring; one woman said that her angiogram had taken longer than she expected.

Angioplasty is a treatment performed by a doctor which involves inserting a small inflatable balloon into a narrowed artery. Sometimes angioplasty may also involve putting a stent (a short tube of expandable mesh) into a narrowed artery. Angioplasty may not be suitable for everyone.

A year after heart by-pass surgery a woman was fitted with a special kind of stent that slowly releases a drug that can help prevent the artery from narrowing again. She said that it had made her feel much better, though she wondered with hindsight how long the stent would last. A man who had had a heart attack in the US underwent emergency angioplasty which he recalled in detail. He thought that there seemed to be a shortage of specialist staff and equipment in the UK which had delayed him getting treatment when he needed it.

Heart failure patients with “hibernating myocardium’ (where the heart muscle stops working temporarily because of reduced oxygen supply) are often offered angioplasty. People with unexplained heart failure or heart failure which worsens without reason should be investigated and they may benefit from angioplasty and stenting or best of all from coronary artery bypass grafting (CABG). The effect can be dramatic and life–prolonging.

For more information on angiograms and angioplasty see the British Heart Foundation website: What happens during an angioplasty?  

Last reviewed April 2016.
Last updated April 2016.


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