Computed tomography, better known as a CT scan, is a type of X-ray that provides cross-sectional images of the body. A specialized scanner is used to perform CT scans that offers highly detailed information when compared to traditional X-rays. A CT heart scan uses this advanced technology to study blood flow through the heart arteries and vessels to identify where blockages exist.

Your doctor will prescribe a CT heart scan to obtain images of your coronary circulation, heart’s anatomy and major heart vessels, such as the aorta, arteries and pulmonary veins. These images help diagnose and assess heart diseases including:

  • Coronary artery disease
  • Aortic disease
  • Cardiac masses
  • Pericardial disease

A CT heart scan is considered a reliable diagnostic test because it gives doctors a multitude of information without the risks or expense of an invasive procedure.

What to expect during a CT heart scan

Preparing for your procedure

Do not eat or drink anything for at least six hours prior to your CT heart scan. Check with your physician to determine if any of your medications should be avoided for the days leading up to your scheduled test. Make sure to bring all of your medications, as well as any herbal or dietary supplements and over-the-counter medications, to the test with you.

Prior to your CT heart scan, your physician will have assessed your kidney function with blood work. Before your test begins, a nurse will review your medical history, allergies and cardiac risk factors. The nurse will start an IV in your arm, which will be used during the scan to administer contrast dye and any additional medication necessary for the test. You may also be given medicine to slow your heart rate prior to the test beginning.

During your procedure

During the scan, you will lie on a long table, which is rolled into a type of tunnel. It’s important that you be still during the scan so the pictures taken are clear. You will be asked to hold your breath at certain times, but the test is not painful.

Immediately before the scan begins, you may receive medicine under your tongue to allow your arteries to be better imaged. You will also receive a contrast dye using an IV, which offers your physician the clearest possible image to evaluate. You may experience a warm feeling throughout your body when the dye is administered, which is completely normal. Rarely, patients may exhibit a reaction to the contrast dye, so if you experience any itching, swelling, hives or shortness of breath, notify the technician immediately because medical treatment may be necessary.

After your procedure

After the scan, you will be instructed to increase your fluid intake to help clear out the contrasting dye used during the test. You usually can resume normal activities right away unless your physician instructs otherwise. If you feel any unusual symptoms after your CT heart scan, be sure to call your physician right away.

What is a cardiac CT?

Thura Harfi, MD, a cardiologist at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, describes a cardiac CT test, as well as what a patient can expect during and after the test.

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