Are you scared to have a catheter angiogram, but need one?

A catheter coronary angiogram is an invasive procedure, and if your doctor recommends you should have one, you may end up too afraid to go through with the procedure  —  once the risks are outlined to you.

“The definitive test for the diagnosis of coronary artery disease remains cardiac catheterization/angiography,” says Christopher J. Hanifin, PA-C, who was previously a physician assistant in open heart surgery with Cardiothoracic Surgery of South Bend in South Bend, IN.

“In this test a catheter is guided to the heart, and dye is introduced into the coronary arteries.

“Images can then be obtained to determine the extent and location of any blockages. In many cases, the cardiologist can perform angioplasty and relieve the blockage on the spot.”

My mother was told she should have a catheter coronary angiogram. She was verbally told the risks, then given paperwork detailing the risks.

When she was done reading, she put the papers aside and refused the procedure, wanting to go home (she had been admitted to the cardiac unit after visiting the ER with chest pain).

I insisted she have the catheter coronary angiogram, even though I, too, was quite nervous about the risks.

Risks of a Catheter Angiogram

Heart attack, stroke, tear in an artery, blood clots, excessive bleeding, kidney damage and infection. That’s enough to scare away an elephant.

At the same time, I knew that the coronary catheter angiogram would get to the bottom of my mother’s problems.

The procedure would be able to — with 100% accuracy — rule out, or in, blockages in the coronary arteries.

My mother had been experiencing peculiar symptoms for a few months, and especially over the few days preceding the hospital admission.

I was fearful of the coronary catheter angiogram, but more fearful of not finding out what was causing the shortness of breath and chest pain.

How to Put Your Anxiety Over a Catheter Angiogram at Ease

Think about what could happen if you skip this procedure out of fear, and go home … and then a few days later, you feel a large brick pressing down on your chest: a heart attack.

Tell yourself there’s a very good reason your doctor wants you to undergo this procedure.

If you’re having symptoms that fit the bill for coronary artery disease and especially an impending heart attack  —  and you’ve been repeatedly dismissing these symptoms as yet another panic attack, anxiety attack or acid indigestion —  for once and for all, have the coronary catheter angiogram if your cardiologist recommends it.

This procedure is not a standard screening tool and if you don’t present with certain criteria, your doctor will advise against it.

Though the procedure is invasive and carries the frightening risks, the chances of serious complications are actually small.

I’m certainly glad I talked my mother into having the catheter coronary angiogram.

I had told her: “If you go home, you’ll be back to square one and be wondering if something’s wrong with your heart. Just get this procedure done and you will finally have answers, and a treatment plan in place.

“Otherwise, if you skip this and go home, you’ll be empty handed. And what if something really is wrong with your heart? No treatment plan in place, you’re home, heart attack, you’re screwed.”

The catheter coronary angiogram revealed extensive blockage in five of my mother’s coronary arteries.

Within two hours of this result, she was in the OR for quintuple bypass surgery.

Christopher J. Hanifin, PA-C, is currently Department Chair and Assistant Professor, Department of Physician Assistant, Seton Hall University, NJ.
Lorra Garrick has been covering medical, fitness and cybersecurity topics for many years, having written thousands of articles for print magazines and websites, including as a ghostwriter. She’s also a former ACE-certified personal trainer.  


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