A non-invasive angiogram is a medical procedure doctors use to look closely at a patient’s heart using little more than an intravenous needle and a high-powered scanner. Most of the time, non-invasive angiograms take only a few minutes to perform and have limited side effects. These procedures have been proven effective for most patients but have not completely replaced traditional cardiac catheter angiograms. A non-invasive angiogram can reveal major heart problems and blockages but is not usually as effective at revealing evidence of heart disease and defects in the heart’s smaller arteries.
Heart surgery is one of the only ways to fix advanced heart disease and artery problems, but surgery necessarily carries many significant risks. Doctors typically perform a variety of different tests before determining that heart surgery is required. One of the most common tests is an angiogram, also sometimes called arteriogram.
Traditional angiograms are invasive, yet non-surgical, procedures that allow doctors to more closely see what is going on in the heart. They typically require a coronary catheter to be inserted into a patient’s artery, usually in the arm pit or groin, that is fed into the heart. Patients also must also usually take an intravenous injection of dye. Doctors then perform a series of x-rays in order to collect images of the heart.
Although not considered a particularly dangerous procedure, a traditional angiogram does carry a series of rather serious risks. A lot of different things can go wrong with the feeding and retracting of the catheter, for instance. The patient’s risk of bleeding or infection is also heightened. For this reason, many modern heart patients elect to receive computed tomography, or CT, angiograms.
A CT angiogram is a wholly non-invasive angiogram. It uses medical imaging instead of a cardiac catheter. A patient receiving a non-invasive angiogram will receive a small amount of a contrast agent, or dye, intravenously, which doctors will monitor with CT scanning technology. As the agent moves throughout the patient’s blood stream, it will illuminate the patient’s major blood vessels and their interior chambers, known as lumen. The chambers of the heart will also become visible.
Most CT angiograms take between 10 and 20 minutes to complete, compared to the hour or more required for a traditional angiograph. There is usually no required recovery from a non-invasive angiogram, either. Just the same, they are not the best option for every patient.
Doctors usually only recommend non-invasive angiograms for patients who are only at an intermediate risk for heart attack or heart failure. Patients with unusual or unexplained symptoms, but who are otherwise in good health, are usually the best candidates. CT scans can help the doctors figure out what is going on with a patient's heart.
Patients with more advanced heart problems or patients considered high risk are usually advised to undergo traditional angiography. Although riskier, a traditional angiogram often gives doctors a more comprehensive look at the patient’s heart. CT scans cannot usually depict the outlying veins and more minor arteries that the more invasive procedure can.