What is a coronary CT?
A coronary CT or coronary computed tomography angiography (CCTA) is an imaging test used to examine the condition of the arteries and other blood vessels leading in and out of the heart.
CT stands for computed tomography. It consists of scans that use X-ray images taken from multiple angles to produce a complete cross-section of the body part that needs to be examined, in this case, the heart and its adjacent blood vessels. These detailed images can be formatted into 3D images on a computer, allowing the physician to examine the internal structures of the body.
What is a coronary CT angiogram?
Before the scan, your doctor may prescribe beta-blockers to slow your heart rate to get clearer images from the scan.
The CT physician will usually give you a medication to numb you and make the procedure more comfortable. The contrast dye will then be delivered through an IV line. This will make the heart and its arteries more visible on the images.
Electrodes will then be placed on your chest to monitor your heart rate. Next, you will lie on a long table that slides into the CT machine. Additionally, you may be asked to keep your arms raised above your head and/or hold your breath for several seconds while the images are taken to get the clearest images possible.
The scan is completed very quickly, usually within 15 minutes or so, but taking into account the preparation time, including the injection of the dye, the whole procedure can take more than an hour.
Why is a coronary CT performed?
A coronary CT scan can be used to evaluate a number of conditions, but is primarily used to diagnose coronary artery disease by checking for blocked or narrowed arteries in the heart. It can also detect:
- Calcium buildup in the coronary arteries.
- Problems with the aorta.
- Problems with heart function, including heart valves.
- Pericardial disease.
Preparing for a coronary CT scan
It is advisable to wear comfortable, loose-fitting clothing for your coronary CT angiography. In addition, you will need to remove any metal objects you are wearing, such as jewelry, piercings, dentures, hearing aids, and bras with metal rings, as metal can affect the images.
If contrast dye is to be used (as is often the case), you may be asked not to eat or drink anything for a few hours before the exam. Also, you should inform your physician of any medications you are taking, any long-term illnesses you have, any allergies, or if there is a possibility that you are pregnant.
What to expect during a coronary CT scan?
The intravenous contrast dye may give a warm sensation for a minute or two after the injection, possibly along with a metallic taste in the mouth.
The CT scan itself is usually very straightforward, but those who have a nervous disposition, suffer from claustrophobia or chronic pain, may have difficulty lying still in the CT machine. In these cases, the physician and technologist may administer medication to help the patient relax.
The patient is usually alone in the room while the scan is being performed, except in special circumstances.
What do abnormal results mean?
You can resume your daily activities after the scan is completed, as the results are ready very quickly. Your physician will review the results with you.
If the coronary CT scan images indicate that you have a heart condition, your doctor will discuss treatment options and what steps or lifestyle changes you will need to take to improve your heart health.