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A peripheral catheterization, also known as a peripheral angiogram, is a procedure performed to evaluate for abnormalities or blockages in the blood vessels outside of the heart, such as the arms, legs, or neck. The procedure is typically performed in patients who have symptoms of peripheral artery disease (known as "claudication") resulting from poor circulation and/or abnormal wound healing.

The image to the right is a picture of a catheterization laboratory. There is a table for the patient, a C-shaped X-ray camera, and monitors for visualizing the findings of the procedure. The catheterization procedure remains the gold-standard for visualizing blockages within blood vessels.

Understanding the Procedure

A long, thin, flexible tube, called a catheter, is typically inserted into the leg or arm through a tiny incision (typically less than one-tenth of an inch) at the skin surface. These catheters are then positioned into the blood vessels of interest. Contrast dye is injected through the catheters and X-rays are taken of the blood vessels. By visualizing the flow of contrast dye within these blood vessels, detailed information is obtained.

Due to its minimally invasive approach (very small incision at the skin surface), a peripheral catheterization is usually very well-tolerated without significant discomfort to the patient. The patient is required to lay flat on his/her back for the duration of the procedure. Routinely, lidocaine is injected at the skin surface to numb the skin and tiny catheters are then inserted. Since there are no nerves inside the blood vessels, the patient typically does not feel the catheters inside the body once they have been inserted. Sedation medications typically are provided to the patient before and during the procedure, however, it is much safer for the patient to have this procedure performed while awake with minimal sedation as opposed to under general anesthesia with use of a breathing tube.

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