Coronary angiography: overview

Coronary angiography is the most accurate test for determining whether a patient has significant coronary artery disease (often called "heart disease"). This test produces pictures, videos or X-ray movies of the actual coronary arteries (see Figure 1).

Figure 1

The heart pumps blood to all parts of the body.

The heart pumps blood to all parts of the body.

When other tests such as a stress test indicate that there may be a problem with these arteries, angiography is done so that the doctor can tell exactly if and where there are blockages (which indicate coronary artery disease), and the severity of the blockages.

Based on this detailed information, the doctor can recommend the best type of treatment.

Why are the coronary arteries so important?

The coronary arteries are the arteries that supply oxygen-rich blood to the heart muscle itself, so that the heart is able to pump strongly and deliver blood to all the vital organs of the body (see Figure 2). If any of these 3 coronary arteries are narrowed, blocked, inflamed, infected or injured, this reduces the blood supply to the heart muscle and can cause injury

Figure 2

The heart and coronary arteries.

The heart and coronary arteries.

How the heart, arteries and veins work

The heart pumps blood to all parts of the body.

The arteries are the blood vessels that deliver the fresh, oxygen-rich blood to all the limbs and organs, and the veins return the oxygen-poor blood back to the heart.

The aorta is the large artery, or hose, which branches off into smaller arteries to deliver blood.

Another large tube, called the pulmonary artery, carries the blood to the lungs, where the blood picks up its supply of oxygen to deliver to the body.

Figure 3

Angiograph of right coronary artery.

Angiograph of right coronary artery.

The 3 coronary arteries supply oxygen-rich blood to the heart muscle. They branch off the aorta and feed directly into the heart. Most people have a left main coronary artery and a right coronary artery (see Figure 3).

The left main artery has two major branches that are considered as two coronary arteries. One goes down the front of the heart (the left anterior descending artery), and a second branch goes to the side and back (the circumflex artery). These 3 coronary arteries are like branches of a tree, which fork into smaller branches, and then divide into even smaller branches and "twigs."

Because these 3 major coronary arteries (right, left anterior descending, and circumflex) carry oxygen-rich blood into the heart muscle, they have an important role to play. Any problem with these arteries, such as blockage, injury or narrowness, will impair their ability to feed oxygen into the heart, which will affect the heart's ability to function.

The contents of this health site are for informational purposes only. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition.

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