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What is an Aortogram?

Mary McMahon
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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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.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a The Health Board researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By seag47 — On Aug 02, 2011

@Perdido - My dad had an aortic dissection, and I know how scary that can be for the family. At first, he thought he had experienced a stroke. One side of his body got very weak, so that he could barely lift his arm.

I took him to the hospital, where they kept him overnight before doing the aortogram. They had to keep him from eating or drinking anything past midnight. He had to inform them of all his medications, some of which he had to refrain from taking to get ready for the procedure.

After examination of the aortogram, it was decided that he needed surgery right away. An aortic dissection left untreated can lead to all kinds of bad things, like organ damage, a stroke, or even death by internal bleeding.

By Perdido — On Aug 02, 2011

After carefully examining my mother’s aortogram, the radiologist determined that she had an aortic dissection. This meant that she had a tear inside of her aorta, and blood had surged through it, causing the middle and inner layers to dissect. If it had ruptured through the outer wall, it would have been fatal.

She went to the hospital when she experienced symptoms similar to those of a heart attack. She had a ripping chest pain, shortness of breath, and sweating. This ripping pain in her chest, along with the different pulse rates in each of her arms, concerned her doctor and prompted him to do the aortogram.

By shell4life — On Aug 01, 2011

The aortogram procedure was somewhat uncomfortable for my grandfather. He said he could feel the contrast dye burning as it coursed through his heart.

Luckily, he had received a sedative, along with pain medication. So, the discomfort did not traumatize him or make him try to stop the process.

He had to lie on an x-ray table with a blood pressure cuff on his arm and wires on his arms and legs to check his heart rate. He also had a clip on his finger to make sure he got enough oxygen.

When he told the nurse he felt burning, she increased his medication. She could not give him very much more, though, because he had to remain awake to follow instructions.

By StarJo — On Aug 01, 2011

My grandmother underwent an aortogram after her doctor suspected she might have an aortic aneurysm. She had an abnormal heart anyway, because her aortic valve had two leaflets instead of the usual three. This put her at risk for an aneurysm, which could cause fatal internal bleeding.

An aortic aneurysm does not cause symptoms in its early stages. It can grow as slow as under a half-inch each year.

The faster one grows, the greater the risk of rupture. Since my grandmother had started showing symptoms in the form of tenderness in her chest and back pain, the doctor knew it was time for the aortogram.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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