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Angiography or Arteriography

Angiography or arteriography is a medical imaging technique used to visualize the inside, or lumen, of blood vessels and organs of the body, with particular interest in the arteries, veins and the heart chambers. This is traditionally done by injecting a radio-opaque contrast agent into the blood vessel and imaging using X-ray based techniques such as fluoroscopy. The word itself comes from the Greek words angeion, "vessel", and graphein, "to write or record". The film or image of the blood vessels is called an angiograph, or more commonly, an angiogram.

Although the term angiography is strictly defined as based on projectional radiography, the term has been applied to newer vascular imaging techniques such as CT angiography and MR angiography.

The technique was first developed in 1927 by Portuguese physician and neurologist Egas Moniz to provide contrasted x-ray cerebral angiography in order to diagnose several kinds of nervous diseases, such as tumors, coronary heart disease and arteriovenous malformations. He is usually recognized as one of the pioneers in this field and was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1949 as a result. With the introduction of the Seldinger technique in 1953, the procedure became markedly safer as no sharp tools introductory devices needed to remain inside the vascular lumen.

Depending on the type of angiogram, access to the blood vessels is gained most commonly through the femoral artery, to look at the left side of the heart and the arterial system or the jugular or femoral vein, to look at the right side of the heart and the venous system. Using a system of guide wires and catheters, a type of contrast agent (which shows up by absorbing the x-rays), is added to the blood to make it visible on the x-ray images.

The X-ray images taken may either be still images, displayed on a image intensifier or film, or motion images. For all structures except the heart, the images are usually taken using a technique called digital subtraction angiography (DSA). Images in this case are usually taken at 2 - 3 frames per second, which allows the radiologist to evaluate the flower of the blood through a vessel or vessels. This technique "subtracts" the bones and other organs so only the vessels filled with contrast agent can be seen. The heart images are taken at 15-30 frames per second, not using a subtraction technique. Because DSA requires the patient to remain motionless, it cannot be used on the heart. Both these techniques enable the radiologist or cardiologist to see stenosis (blockages or narrowings) inside the vessel which may be inhibiting the flow of blood and causing pain.

Coronary Angiography
One of most common angiograms performed is to visualize the blood in the coronary arteries. A long, thin, flexible tube called a catheter is used to administer the x-ray contrast 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.

Neuro-vascular Angiography
Another increasingly common angiographic procedure is neuro-vascular digital subtraction angiography in order to visualise the arterial and venous supply to the brain. Intervention work such as coil-embolisation of aneurysms and AVM gluing can also be performed

Peripheral Angiography
Angiography is also commonly performed to identify vessel narrowing in patients with leg claudication or cramps, caused by reduced blood flow down the legs and to the feet; in patients with renal stenosis (which commonly causes high blood pressure) and can be used in the head to find and repair stroke. These are all done routinely through the femoral artery, but can also be performed through the brachial or axillary (arm) artery. Any stenoses found may be treated by the use of angioplasty.