The most common vascular procedures performed for gastrointestinal diseases are diagnostic arteriograms. To perform diagnostic arteriograms, the doctor places a small plastic tube (catheter) into the femoral artery (usually in the groin), and directs the catheter into the arteries responsible for the blood supply of different organs, like the liver, stomach and kidneys. The catheter has a special shape at the tip that allows the doctor to direct the tip to the desired target vessel for dye (contrast solution) injection and X-ray picture acquisition. The acquired pictures will be analyzed and a diagnostic impression will be provided to your physician, through a written report. The diagnostic angiograms are performed using local anesthetics (to numb the skin) and usually with sedation through an intravenous (IV) line.
Diagnostic angiograms are useful, among other things, for making diagnoses, identifying the location of active gastrointestinal/pancreatic bleeding sources, identifying and assessing the extension of tumors in the gastrointestinal tract, and identifying and evaluating the location and spread of liver tumors.
Diagnostic angiograms also provide an invaluable road map of the vasculature of the abdominal organs, that may be useful for prospective surgery and other more invasive procedures, such as liver transplant.
A catheter placed in the blood vessel feeding a diseased organ, as in the case for diagnostic angiography, provides an excellent opportunity for treatment of that organ. The selectively placed catheter can be used as the vehicle for injection of drugs, devices and other therapeutic systems. A recent advance in that area is the transcatheter liver cell transplant, which is still experimental but a promising technique.