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Heart Disease Health Center

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Diagnosing Heart Disease With Cardiac Computed Tomography (CT)

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Total Body CT Scan (TBCT) continued...

The TBCT scan -- which takes about 15 minutes to perform -- analyzes three major areas of the body: the lungs, the heart, and the abdomen/pelvis.

In the heart, the scan can detect aortic aneurysms and calcium deposits within plaque in the coronary arteries. However, the presence of calcium deposits in the coronary arteries does not necessarily mean that an artery is dangerously narrowed by disease or that a severe health threat exists. For example, calcium deposits are often found in older people as a result of their age. In addition, the CT scan cannot give a precise location of the diseased portion of the artery.

For some high-risk individuals, the proposed benefit of having a TBCT scan lies in the potential of early detection and treatment. But overall, its use for early detection of heart disease is very controversial.

In the Pipeline: PET/CT Heart Scans

Positron emission tomography (PET) scanning combined with CTA is on the horizon for the detection of heart disease.

PET scans are a form of nuclear medicine -- "nuclear" being the small dose of radioactive material you are injected with before the test (the radiation exposure is similar to that of a standard X-ray). As with CTA, PET involves a doughnut-like scanning device that takes the images.

With PET, the cardiologist and radiologist can examine biological functions, like blood flow or glucose metabolism of the heart. CTA shows the heart's shape and volume.

There is a debate among cardiologists over the appropriateness of PET/CTA for heart diagnosis; more research is needed.

Are These Tests Covered by Insurance?

In many cases, the calcium-score screening heart scan, coronary CTA, and total body CT scan are NOT covered by most insurance companies or Medicare. These tests are not typically covered because they are considered screening exams. Therefore, you will likely be responsible for paying for all costs associated with the exam and may be required to pay these fees at the time of the exam. Please check with your insurance provider to determine the services that are covered and ask your health care provider about the terms of payment.

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