Cardiac CT AngiographyAlso known as coronary computed tomographic angiography (CCTA), cardiac CT angiography is a diagnostic imaging test that can help a physician determine if the arteries that supply blood to the heart muscle are narrowed by a buildup of cholesterol plaque. CCTA can reveal hard and soft plaque, both of which can reduce blood flow. The latter, which is more difficult to detect in other diagnostic images, is also more likely to lead to a heart attack.
A physician may order a cardiac CT angiography test to evaluate:
- A suspected defect in the anatomy of the coronary arteries
- Low-risk or intermediate-risk chest pain
- An inconclusive stress test result
- New or worsening symptoms that develop after a normal stress test result
- New-onset heart failure with reduced heart function in a patient who is at low or intermediate risk for coronary artery disease
- A coronary artery bypass graft
During a cardiac CT angiography exam, the patient lies comfortably on an examination table. After cleaning the skin on the patient’s chest, a technician will place three small, sticky patches that contain electrical conductors (electrodes) in targeted areas. The electrodes will be connected with wires to an electrocardiograph (ECG) monitor, which will display the electrical activity of the patient’s heart throughout the test.
To administer the contrast material that will be used during the exam, the technician will place an intravenous (IV) line into a vein in the patient’s arm. The patient may be asked to raise his or her arms overhead for the duration of the exam to further enhance the quality of the resulting images.
After an initial quick pass through the CT scanner to determine the correct starting position for the scans, the exam table will move slowly through the machine as the CT scanning is performed, possibly making several passes.
While the patient is in the CT scanner, he or she may be given a beta-blocker medication through the IV line or by mouth to help slow his or her heart rate to improve image quality. The patient may also be asked to take and hold a deep breath at times to minimize movement.
If the patient’s heartbeat is slow and steady, the entire process should take about 15 minutes, but it may take longer if the patient’s heart is beating rapidly. When the exam is complete, the IV line is removed and the patient can immediately go home.
What to Expect
A relatively quick, safe and precise test, CCTA can provide highly reliable results, reducing the need for invasive angiography. Cardiac CT angiography also requires minimal preparation and no recovery time.
A cardiac CT angiography test can provide a physician with important information about the presence and extent of plaque in the coronary arteries. In addition to helping a physician identify coronary artery narrowing as the cause of chest pain, CCTA can also help a physician detect a collapsed lung, a blood clot in a vessel leading to the lungs or an aortic abnormality.
Tampa General Hospital’s Heart & Vascular Institute offers a full array of imaging services for the diagnosis of heart and vascular disease in children and adults, all in one convenient location.