Cardiac computed tomography (CT) uses special X-ray equipment to produce high-resolution pictures of the heart. This is to detect or evaluate coronary heart disease, calcium buildup, problems with heart function and anatomy, pulmonary embolism and more. A CT exam is painless, fast and easy.
Learn how to prepare for cardiac CT and what to expect before, during and after the procedure.
Before the Procedure
You should continue to take your usual medications, but avoid eating, caffeine and smoking for four hours prior to the exam. Women should always inform their radiologist if there is any possibility they may be pregnant.
Wear comfortable, loose-fitting clothing to your exam. Metal objects, including jewelry, eyeglasses and dentures, may affect the CT images and should be left at home. You will be given a gown to wear and asked to remove jewelry, hearing aids and removable dental work. Women will be asked to remove bras containing metal underwire.
Depending on the type of cardiac CT you are receiving, you may be given a medicine, either by mouth or IV, to slow your heart rate.
During the Procedure
The technologist begins by positioning you on the exam table, usually lying flat on your back. Straps and pillows may be used to help you maintain the correct position and remain still. Electrodes will be attached to your chest to record the electrical activity of the heart.
If your radiologist wants to use a contrast dye during your cardiac CT scan, an intravenous (IV) line will be put in a vein in your hand or arm and the dye will be injected into the IV line during the scan.
You will be alone in the room during the CT scan. Sometimes a parent may stay in the room with their child. However, the technologist will always be able to see, hear and speak with you through an intercom system.
The table will move quickly through the CT scanner, a large machine with a hollow, circular tube in the middle, to determine the correct starting position for the scans. Then the table will move slowly through the machine as the CT scan takes pictures of different parts of your heart.
Patients are asked to hold their breath for small moments while images are recorded. The entire scan is usually completed within 10 minutes.
After the Procedure
When the exam is complete, you will be asked to wait until the technologist verifies that the images are of high enough quality for accurate interpretation. Once this has been confirmed, you can return to your normal activities.
After the images have been interpreted, your radiologist or referring physician will discuss the findings with you. Depending on the results of the CT scan, additional tests or procedures may be scheduled to gather further diagnostic information.