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What is CT Angiography?


CT (computed tomography) angiography (CTA) is a procedure that uses x-rays to visualize blood flow in arteries and veins throughout the body, from those serving the heart and brain to those bringing blood to the lungs, kidneys, and arms and legs. CT combines the use of x-rays with computerized analysis of the images. A rotating device passes beams of x-rays through the body from several different angles to create cross-sectional images, which are then integrated by computer into a three-dimensional picture.

Compared to catheter angiography, which involves placing a sizable catheter and injecting contrast material into a large artery or vein, CTA is a much less invasive and more patient-friendly procedure. This type of exam has been used to screen large numbers of individuals for heart disease without the need for hospital admission.

What are some common uses of the procedure?

  • Identifying aneurysms in the aorta or in other major blood vessels. (Aneurysms are areas of blood vessel walls that are weakened and bulge out. They are life-threatening because they can rupture.)
  • Identifying dissection in the aorta or its major branches. (Dissection means that the layers of the artery wall peel away from each other, which can be painful and life-threatening.)
  • Detecting arteries in the pelvis or leg which have narrowed.
  • Detecting thrombosis (clots) in veins, for example large veins in the pelvis and legs. These clots may travel to the lungs and cause pulmonary embolism.
  • Examination of the pulmonary arteries in the lungs to rule out pulmonary embolism.
  • Visualizing blood flow in the renal arteries (those supplying the kidneys) in patients with high blood pressure and those with kidney disorders. Also done in prospective kidney donors.
  • Evaluating the effectiveness of a stent, a device used to facilitate blood flow in a diseased artery.

How should I prepare for the procedure?

This test is performed exclusively at our Mineola location. You will be asked to avoid food and drink, smoking, and caffeine for at least 5 hours prior. You will also be asked whether you have asthma or any allergies to foods or drugs, and what medications you are currently taking. If you are pregnant, you should inform the technologist before the procedure. You will be asked to wear a gown and remove any jewelry that might interfere with picture taking.

How does the procedure work?

Before the test begins, a small dose of contrast material is injected into a vein in the arm. During the exam, the rotating device spins around the patient, creating a beam of x-rays, and the detector takes snapshots of the beam after it passes through the patient. The computer processes the images and allows them to be displayed in different ways, for example, in slices, or as three-dimensional “casts” of the blood vessels.

How is the procedure performed?

After changing into a gown you will lie down on a narrow table and have an IV set up. The part of your body to be examined will be placed inside the opening of the CT unit. A test image is taken to determine the best position, and a small dose of contrast material may be given to see how long it takes to reach the area under study.

What will I experience during the procedure?

CTA takes about 10 to 25 minutes from the time the actual examination begins. Overall, you can expect to be in the exam room for 20 to 60 minutes. You may feel warm all over when contrast material is injected, but you will not feel pain. You will be asked to remain as still as possible. Pillows and foam pads are used help make it more comfortable. At the same time, the technologist may use Velcro straps to keep an area of your body from moving. The examination table will move into and out of the scanner opening, and only a small part of your body will be inside at any one time. You may be asked to hold your breath for 10 to 20 seconds. Once the images have been taken, you will be free to leave. You can eat immediately, and drinking plenty of fluids in the hours following the exam is recommended to help flush contrast material out of the system.

Who interprets the results and how do I get them?

Our director of CT scanning will analyze the images and send a report to your primary care physician. Typically the results of CTA are available within 24-48 hours.

Benefits

CTA can be used to examine blood vessels in many important areas of the body, including the heart, brain, kidneys, pelvis, and the lungs. The procedure is able to detect narrowing of blood vessels so that corrective therapy can be facilitated immediately. This method also displays the anatomical detail of blood vessels more precisely than magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or ultrasound. Today, CTA can replace conventional catheter angiography in many patients. It is advantageous because it is safer and much less time-consuming than catheter angiography and is a cost-effective procedure. There is also less discomfort for the patient because the contrast material is injected into an arm vein rather than into a large artery in the groin.

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