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Computed Tomography Angiogram (CT Angiogram)

A computed tomography angiogram (CT angiogram) is a test that uses X-rays to provide detailed pictures of the heart and the blood vessels that go to the heart, lung, brain, kidneys, head, neck, legs, and arms.

A CT angiogram can show whether a blood vessel is blocked, where the blockage is, and how big the blockage is. The test can also show whether there is a bulge (aneurysm) or a buildup of fatty material called plaque in a blood vessel.

During a CT angiogram, you lie on a table that passes through a doughnut-shaped opening in the scanner. A special dye (contrast material) is put in a vein (IV) in your arm or hand to make the blood vessels easier to see on the scan. If you are having a CT angiogram to look at your heart and the blood vessels that go to it (coronary arteries), you may be given a medicine called a beta-blocker to slow your heart rate during the test.

Why It Is Done

A CT angiogram is done to look for:

  • A narrowing (stenosis) or blockage in the coronary arteries. This can occur when there is a buildup of fat (cholesterol) and calcium in the arteries. This buildup is called plaque.
  • Heart problems, such as pericarditis (a buildup of fluid around the heart) and damage or injury to the heart valves.
  • A bulge (aneurysm) or tear (dissection) in the aorta camera.gif, which is a large blood vessel that carries blood from the heart to the rest of the body.
  • A blood clot in the lungs (pulmonary embolism).
  • A narrowing of the veins in the leg (peripheral arterial disease).
  • An abnormal pattern of blood vessels that may be a sign of a tumor.

How To Prepare

Before you have a CT angiogram, tell your doctor if you:

  • Are or might be pregnant.
  • Are breast-feeding. You will need to use formula (not your breast milk) for 1 to 2 days after the CT angiogram until the dye has passed from your body. Or you can pump your breast milk and store it before the test and use that for a couple of days.
  • Are allergic to any medicines, including iodine dyes.
  • Have a heart condition, such as heart failure.
  • Have diabetes or take metformin (such as Glucophage) to control your diabetes.
  • Have a history of kidney problems.
  • Have asthma.
  • Have a history of thyroid problems.
  • Have had multiple myeloma.
  • Have had an X-ray test using barium contrast material (such as a barium enema) or have taken a medicine that contains bismuth (such as Pepto-Bismol) in the past 4 days. Barium and bismuth show up on X-ray films and make it hard to see the picture clearly.
  • Become very nervous in small spaces. You will have to lie still inside the CT scanner, so you may need a medicine (sedative) to help you relax. If you are given a sedative, you may need to have someone take you home after the test.

You may be asked not to eat or drink anything for several hours before the test. Your doctor will let you know if there are certain foods or liquids you should avoid.

Talk to your doctor about any concerns you have regarding the need for the test, its risks, how it will be done, or what the results will mean. To help you understand the importance of this test, fill out the medical test information form(What is a PDF document?).

WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: June 13, 2012
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.

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