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Angiography or arteriography is a medical imaging technique in which an X-ray or MRI picture is taken to visualize the inner opening of blood filled structures, including arteries, veins and the heart chambers. An angiogram done with an MRI machine is often referred to as a Magnetic Resonance Angiogram or MRA.
Angiograms require the insertion of a catheter into a peripheral artery, e.g. the femoral artery. As blood has the same radiodensity as the surrounding tissues, a radiocontrast agent (which absorbs X-rays) is added to the blood to make angiography visualization possible. The angiographic X-Ray image shows shadows of the openings within the cardiovascular structures carrying blood (actually the radiocontrast agent within). The blood vessels or heart chambers themselves remain largely to totally invisible on the X-Ray image.
The most common angiogram performed is to visualize the blood in the coronary arteries. A long, thin, flexible tube called a catheter is used so as to administer the radiocontrast agent at the desired area to be visualized. The catheter is threaded into an artery in the groin or forearm, and the tip is advanced through the arterial system into one of the two major coronary arteries. X-ray images of the transient radiocontrast distribution within the blood flowing within the coronary arteries allows visualization of the size of the artery openings. Presence or absence of atherosclerosis or atheroma within the walls of the arteries cannot be clearly determined. See coronary catheterization for more detail.
Angiography is also commonly performed to identify vessel narrowing in patients with retinal vascular disorders, such as diabetic retinopathy and macular degeneration.
Angiography is considered to be an invasive procedure, and does pose some risks, such as the possibility that the patient has an allergy to the radiocontrast agent.