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An aortogram is an image of the aorta, the largest artery in the body, acquired by injecting a radiopaque substance into a patient and using medical imaging equipment to snap a series of pictures. Aortography, as this procedure is known, is a diagnostic test used to provide care providers with more information about the shape, structure, size, and position of the aorta in a patient's body. This test can be performed in a radiology suite at a clinic or a hospital, and it takes around an hour.
Also known as aortic angiography, aortography may be recommended if a care provider believes that a patient has an aortic aneurysm or aortic dissection. These are both life-threatening conditions that require prompt medical attention. The test can also be recommended in certain other cases. It involves some radiation, so care providers are careful about recommending it, limiting the test to occasions when it is demonstrably needed. The test is generally not painful, but it can be uncomfortable.
To acquire an aortogram, the patient is given an injection of a contrast material. Some contrast materials can provoke allergic reactions, and it is important for patients to disclose any history of allergies or bad drug reactions before the test. The contrast material is delivered through a catheter and as it starts to diffuse, a series of images are taken. Each individual image is an aortogram, providing a snapshot of the aorta.
The contrast agent allows the aorta to stand out clearly on the aortogram. Without a contrast agent, it is still possible to visualize the aorta on some types of medical imaging studies, but it will not be as clear and easy to read. Clinicians could miss warning signs of medical conditions involving the aorta and fail to provide an appropriate medical intervention in time.
At the conclusion of the test, the patient may be asked to stay for a short time to be monitored for any signs of allergic reactions or other complications. Over time, the contrast agent is expressed from the body just like other waste materials. The aortogram can be read by a radiologist, and the person who reads it may specialize in cardiology. Reading the results of such medical imaging studies is a skill that requires practice. During training, radiologists look at thousands of different images and learn to detect subtle differences and nuances in imaging studies that provide important diagnostic clues.