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Definition | Reasons for Test | Possible Complications | What to Expect | Call Your Doctor


An arteriogram is a test that allows a doctor to see the arteries on an x-ray. A contrast dye is injected into the arteries to make them visible. The test makes images that can be used to diagnose and treat problems in the arteries.

Reasons for Test

An arteriogram is done to check the arteries for narrowing, bulging, or blockages. These could be signs of disease.

Plaque Blocking an Artery

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This test could be done to diagnose conditions such as:

  • Peripheral arterial disease (PAD)—blockages in the arteries in your arms or legs
  • Aneurysm —bulging of the arteries
  • Vascular malformation—problems in the structure of the arteries

Sometimes, the doctor may treat problems found during the arteriogram. The doctor may dissolve a clot or do angioplasty with or without stenting.

Possible Complications

Problems from the procedure are rare, but all procedures have some risk. Your doctor will review potential problems, like:

  • Bruising or infection at the puncture site
  • Bleeding, pain, or swelling where the catheter was inserted
  • Allergic reaction to the contrast dye
  • Damage to the blood vessels during the procedure, which may require surgery
  • Heart attack, stroke, or in rare cases, death

What to Expect

At your appointment before the test, your doctor will likely:

  • Do a thorough physical examination
  • Do blood tests
  • Ask about:
    • Your medical history
    • Medication you take
    • Allergies
    • Whether you are pregnant or trying to get pregnant

In the days before your procedure, you will need to:

  • Arrange for a ride to and from the procedure.
  • Talk to your doctor if you take any medications, herbs, or supplements.
  • You may need to stop taking some medications up to one week before the procedure, like:
    • Aspirin and other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, such as ibuprofen or naproxen
    • Blood thinners, such as warfarin
    • Anti-platelets, such as clopidogrel

Do not eat or drink anything after midnight the night before your procedure.

You will have an IV placed in your arm to give you medications. These medications will make you feel sleepy and comfortable.

For this procedure, you will have a catheter placed in your groin or elbow so that the doctor can inject the contrast dye. The skin where the catheter will be placed will be cleaned. The doctor will make a tiny cut. The doctor will then insert a hollow needle into the artery. A thin wire will be placed into the artery. The catheter will be threaded over the wire, and the wire will be removed.

The doctor will use the catheter to inject a contrast dye into your artery. The dye may cause you to feel warm or flushed for a few moments. The doctor will take x-rays to see how the contrast dye is moving through your arteries. You will need to lie still to prevent blurry images.

About one hour.

Although the procedure is not painful, you may feel:

  • A brief sting when local anesthesia is injected
  • Pressure when catheter is inserted
  • Hot and flushed when contrast dye is injected

After the test, the catheter will be removed. The IV will also be removed from your arm.

Immediately following the procedure:

  • You will need to be monitored for about six hours.
  • The doctor or a nurse may press on the insertion site for 10-20 minutes to stop the bleeding.
  • You will need to keep the arm or leg where the catheter was inserted straight. This will minimize bleeding.
  • You will be encouraged to drink a lot of fluids to flush the contrast material from your system.

When you return home, take these steps:

  • Follow your doctor’s instructions on cleaning the incision site.
  • Ask your doctor about when it is safe to shower, bathe, or soak in water.
  • You may eat normally. Continue to drink plenty of fluids for 1-2 days.
  • For at least 12 hours, avoid strenuous activities like climbing stairs, driving, or walking.
  • Be sure to follow all of your doctor’s instructions.

Call Your Doctor

Call your doctor if any of these occurs:

  • Signs of infection, including fever and chills
  • Redness, swelling, increasing pain, excessive bleeding, or any discharge from the injection site
  • Extreme sweating, nausea, or vomiting
  • Extreme pain, including chest pain
  • Leg or arm feels cold, turns white or blue, or becomes numb or tingly
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Any problems with your speech or vision
  • Facial weakness

If you think you have an emergency, call for medical help right away.


American Heart Association


Radiological Society of North America



The College of Family Physicians of Canada



Angiogram. VascularWeb website. Available at: http://www.vascularweb.org/vascularhealth/Pages/angiogram.aspx. Updated January 2011. Accessed May 20, 2013.

Angiogram (arteriogram). California Pacific Medical Center website. Available at: http://www.cpmc.org/learning/documents/ir-angioarterio-ws.pdf. Updated September 2007. Accessed May 20, 2013.

MR angiography (MRA). Radiological Society of North America Radiology Info website. Available at: http://www.radiologyinfo.org/en/info.cfm?pg=angiomr. Updated July 2, 2012. Accessed May 20, 2013.

Stroke diagnosis. American Stroke Association website. Available at: http://www.strokeassociation.org/STROKEORG/AboutStroke/Diagnosis/Diagnosis_UCM_310890_Article.jsp. Updated November 21, 2012. Accessed May 20, 2013.

Last reviewed May 2013 by Michael J. Fucci, DO; Brian Randall, MD

Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

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