Cerebral Angiography

What is cerebral angiography?

Cerebral angiography is a diagnostic technique that uses an X-ray scanner and special dye, known as contrast, to determine the health of blood vessels in the brain and evaluate blood flow.

The test is helpful in diagnosing acute ischemic strokes, and can help your medical team decide whether surgery is the best option for reopening a blocked artery.

It is also used to confirm the presence and location of brain tumors, to evaluate the arteries of the head and neck before surgery, as well as to identify abnormalities such as cerebral aneurysms.

How long will the procedure take?

The procedure will take from one to three hours. Patients who are not admitted to the hospital at the time of the test (outpatient) should anticipate spending much of the day at Cedars-Sinai for intake and recovery.

How should patients prepare for cerebral angiography?

If the test is being done on an outpatient, they will be asked not to eat or drink anything after midnight the evening before the test. An adult friend or family member will need to drive the patient to and from Cedars-Sinai on the day of the procedure. Patients are encouraged to wear easy-to-remove clothing, because they will be required to change into a hospital gown.

Anyone undergoing a cerebral angiography should alert their physicians to any medications or allergies. In particular, the medical team should be told about:

  • History of bleeding problems
  • Past allergic reaction to X-ray contrast or any iodine-based substance
  • Current or suspected pregnancy

What happens during a cerebral angiography?

During the test the patient lies on a table and is given a mild sedative if needed to help them relax throughout the procedure.

A nurse or physician cleans the patient’s arm or leg, and injects a local anesthetic. Once numbed, a physician inserts a thin, flexible tube, known as a catheter, into an artery. Using an X-ray for guidance, the physician threads the catheter through the artery and vein and up to the carotid artery in the neck.

Once the catheter is in place, the physician injects a special dye through the catheter. The dye outlines blood vessels and X-ray images capture the degree of narrowing and condition of plaque in those vessels. If the plaque is rough, clots are more likely to form in the blood vessel.

What should the patient expect after the test?

When the test is over, the physician will remove the IV and catheter and apply pressure to the insertion site for 10 to 20 minutes to help stop bleeding. The patient will remain in the exam room for four to six hours for monitoring. During that time, fluids are provided to prevent dehydration and to flush the contrast dye from the body.

Once any bleeding has stopped and the patient’s vital signs are normal, outpatients will be allowed to go home. The physician will provide follow-up instructions, which may include:

  • Eat normally
  • Continue to drink extra fluids for one or two days
  • Avoid strenuous physical activities such as climbing, driving and walking for at least 12 hours

Will the procedure cause any discomfort?

Patients may feel some discomfort with the initial injection of anesthetic, but the numbing agent should relieve any discomfort associated with the placement of the catheter.

Some patients experience a burning or flushing sensation in the face and head, a brief headache or nausea during the injection of the dye. However, this discomfort should pass quickly.

For an appointment, a second opinion or more information, please call 1-800-CEDARS-1 (1-800-233-2771) or email us at neurologicaldisorders@cshs.org.