It must first be said that the coronary arteries supply the myocardium – the heart muscle – with blood. These arteries can become clogged due to deposits of cholesterol, cells, or other substances, which form atheromatous plaque. Because of this, blood flow to the heart can be reduced.
If a blood clot forms and blocks blood flow through that artery, a heart attack can occur, in which case this invasive investigation called coronary angiography or angiogram may be needed. Doctors can also perform noninvasive angiograms, using computerized tomography (CT) scans to look at a person’s blood vessels, but this approach is not as accurate.
How Much Does a Coronary Angiography Cost?
The amount of money you are going to pay for a coronary angiography will be affected by several factors such as the place where you are living, where it is performed (clinic/hospital), the type of angiography and how urgent is the situation. The cost of a coronary angiography would be anywhere between $1,300 and $12,000, depending on the exact procedure you choose to have. For instance, a CT coronary angiography cost only $1,300, while for a traditional angiography you will have to pay $4,800 to $12,000.
Obviously, if you have health insurance, the costs of this procedure should be covered by your policy as long as it is deemed medically necessary. Because there are so many types of health insurance policies, it is recommended to contact your insurance company and ask what you would be responsible for. Also, you should ask about what facilities within your network are performing this kind of procedure. In case your policy does offer coverage for coronary angiography, you would be responsible for zero to as much as 60% of the costs.
Depending on the facility, the cost estimates presented above should include the special X-ray, the dyes, and the catheter placement in the artery(s).
Coronary angiography – short presentation
The first thing to make clear is that coronary angiography is a diagnostic method, not a treatment method.
Coronary angiography is a medical procedure that helps us obtain valuable information about the health of the heart and the coronary arteries, i.e. those vessels that supply the myocardium with blood. It is considered the best way to diagnose coronary heart disease, but it is also used when other heart problems are suspected.
What happens during a coronary angiogram?
First, the patient is given medication to relax, but will still be awake so that they can respond to the doctor’s requests. Then, they will be taken to a special room for this procedure in the hospital. The patient will lie on a medical table, near the angiographer.
The doctor will anesthetize an area of the body, such as the groin or arm, and insert a special, thin tube (called a catheter) into an artery, leading it to the heart. The patient will feel no more pain than when blood is drawn for routine tests.
A liquid called a contrast agent is put in through the catheter so that the arteries can be seen clearly once the radiation is used. The doctor will then take x-rays as the fluid passes through the artery. The patient may be asked to hold their breath or cough at this time.
By studying the images obtained in this way, using a very small amount of radiation, the doctor can see any problems in the coronary arteries.
In most cases, the procedure takes about 30 minutes.
How does this procedure feel?
The patient may feel slight pressure as the catheter is inserted. Rarely, you may experience slight discomfort in your chest as the contrast material enters your body. During the procedure, the need to urinate and, in rare cases, nausea may occur.
It is also possible that during the angiogram the patient will feel a sensation of heat from head to toe, which will last about 20 seconds, as the special contrast liquid is injected (this solution contains iodine).
After the angiography, the patient is taken to a recovery room, where he must lie still for several hours. He may feel pain or tenderness where the catheter was inserted or from lying on his back. As a rule, the person will be able to go home the same day, although in some cases it is possible to stay overnight in the hospital. After the angiography, the doctor will discuss the results with the patient.
When do you need a coronary angiography?
The coronary angiography procedure is indicated when the presence of myocardial infarction or angina pectoris characterized by:
- persistent chest pain/angina pectoris;
- fainting, syncope (fainting or loss of consciousness) in patients with cardiovascular risk factors: arterial hypertension, hypercholesterolemia, diabetes;
- abnormal EKG;
- abnormalities in biological tests – increases in cardiac enzymes or troponin.
What are the additional costs?
Depending on your situation, before the test starts, a doctor may order a blood test, an electrocardiogram test, and a chest X-ray. In case all of these tests are necessary, they will come at an extra cost.
In case the test results show a narrowing of the arteries or a blockage, stent placement or extra tests may be necessary. For example, the cost of a heart bypass surgery would be anywhere between $70,000 and $200,000 or even more, while for an angioplasty you will have to pay $30,000 or more. During this test, a lot of issues may be diagnosed.
How can I save money?
You may be able to save some money if you are uninsured and pay in cash but talk with the finance department beforehand. For instance, if you don’t have health insurance, the Washington Hospital Healthcare System in California offers a 35% discount.
On the other hand, if you have health insurance, make sure you contact your health insurance company and ask about the costs you are responsible for. The insurance policies are going to vary from one provider to another.