Computed Tomography Angiography (CTA)Computed tomography angiography utilizes X-ray technology with a contrast dye to produce detailed images of blood vessels. Computed tomography angiography (CTA) utilizes sophisticated X-ray technology with a contrast agent to produce detailed images of the heart and the blood vessels that supply the brain, lungs, kidneys, head, neck, arms and legs. CTA can reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke by helping a physician detect narrowed or blocked blood vessels.
A physician may recommend computed tomography angiography to investigate:
- A suspected narrowing or blockage in the coronary arteries
- Inflammation of the pericardial sac around the heart (pericarditis)
- Heart valve damage
- A bulge (aneurysm) or tear (dissection) in the aorta, a large blood vessel that carries blood from the heart to the rest of the body
- A suspected narrowing of arteries in the legs (peripheral arterial disease)
- A blood clot in a lung (pulmonary embolism)
A technician will position the patient on an examination table and place an intravenous (IV) line in a vein in the patient’s arm or hand, then deliver a contrast medium via the IV line. After the technician leaves the room, the exam table will slowly move in and out of a CT scanner, which is similar to a large tunnel. The technician will observe the patient through a window from an adjacent room and remain in contact with him or her via an intercom at all times.
The patient may hear clicking, whirring and buzzing sounds as the scanner rotates around his or her body. At times, the patient may be asked to take and hold a deep breath for a few seconds. Most patients do not experience any discomfort during computed tomography angiography. The scanning process can take up to an hour to complete.
What to Expect
As with any type of imaging test that involves exposure to ionizing radiation, computed tomography angiography can slightly increase the risk of cancer. However, the radiation used during CTA is minimal, and the benefit of an early and accurate heart disease diagnosis generally outweighs this risk. Some patients are sensitive to the contrast dye, although allergic reactions are uncommon.
CT angiography is less invasive than standard angiography, which involves the placement of a catheter in a vein. However, if a physician detects a blockage during standard angiography, he or she may perform angioplasty to clear the blockage during the same session. If a physician detects a blockage during CTA, a separate procedure will be needed to clear it.
Computed tomography angiography can provide important information that can help prevent a heart attack or stroke. Tampa General Hospital’s Heart & Vascular Institute offers a full spectrum of diagnostic imaging tests for vascular disease, including CTA.