A cerebral angiogram helps healthcare providers diagnose and evaluate blood vessel issues in your brain. It can detect several issues, such as brain aneurysms, blood clots and atherosclerosis. The test uses X-rays and a special dye.
During the procedure, a provider inserts a catheter (thin plastic tube) into an artery in your wrist or groin area. They then inject a contrast material (a special dye) through the catheter to show the structure of your blood vessels. Next, the provider takes X-rays of your blood vessels while you lay on the procedure table.
Cerebral angiograms are also called digital subtraction angiography of the brain (DSA).
Sometimes, cerebral angiograms only have a diagnostic purpose. At other times, they allow healthcare providers to treat certain conditions.
Providers use cerebral angiograms for several reasons. One purpose is to diagnose or confirm blood vessel abnormalities in your brain, including:
Other uses include:
In preparation for a cerebral angiogram, your healthcare provider will make sure it’s safe for you to undergo the test. They’ll likely do a physical exam, order certain blood tests and ask you questions about your medical history.
Be sure to tell your provider:
If you’re going to receive a sedative (medication to keep you relaxed) during the procedure, your provider may tell you not to eat or drink anything for four to eight hours before the test. If you’re going to be sedated or are receiving general anesthesia, you’ll also need someone else to drive you home after the test.
In any case, you’ll receive specific instructions from your provider on how to prepare, including any changes you need to make to your regular medication or eating schedule. Be sure to follow them.
In general, you can expect the following during a cerebral angiogram:
A cerebral angiogram usually takes one to three hours to complete. It may require additional time for exam preparation and post-procedure care.
After the cerebral angiogram, you’ll remain in a recovery room for observation for a few hours. After this, you’ll be able to go home.
Your provider will give you special instructions for recovery. Be sure to follow them.
You can resume your normal eating routine immediately after the exam. You should rest for eight to 12 hours after the test before resuming all other activities.
If you’re breastfeeding (chestfeeding), you should wait for 24 hours after the contrast material injection before resuming breastfeeding.
Any procedure that places a catheter inside a blood vessel carries certain risks, including:
Other risks of a cerebral angiogram include:
Your provider will go over the risks of the procedure with you before the exam. Don’t hesitate to express your concerns or ask any questions.
Healthcare providers order cerebral angiograms for several reasons. Depending on the reason for your test, you may have different results on your report.
In general, contrast dye that flows out of a blood vessel may be a sign of bleeding.
Narrowed or blocked arteries may suggest:
Out-of-place blood vessels may be due to:
In any case, a radiologist will analyze the images from the test and compile a report of the findings. They’ll send the report to your provider who ordered the cerebral angiogram, who’ll then share the results with you.
You may need a follow-up exam or other tests. If so, your provider will explain why.
You should tell your provider immediately if you experience any of the following symptoms after your procedure:
A cerebral angiogram itself isn’t considered surgery. It’s a minimally invasive diagnostic procedure.
In the medical world, surgery is when a surgeon alters your body by the incision or destruction of tissues. While a cerebral angiogram involves a minor incision to place the catheter, the exam doesn’t involve changing any of your body’s tissues for medical purposes.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
A cerebral angiogram is a helpful tool for diagnosing and evaluating blood vessel disorders in your head. If you need a cerebral angiogram and are worried about the procedure or have questions about it, don’t be afraid to ask your healthcare provider. They’re available to help and support you.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 08/08/2023.
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