CT Scan of the Heart: About This Test

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The heart

What is it?

A computed tomography (CT) scan uses X-rays to make detailed pictures of parts of your body and the structures inside your body. A CT of the heart looks at the structures and blood vessels of the heart.

During the test, you lie on a table that passes through a doughnut-shaped opening in the scanner. A special dye (contrast material) may be put in a vein (IV) in your arm or hand to make the blood vessels easier to see on the scan.

Why is this test done?

A CT of the heart is done to look at the structures and blood vessels of the heart. These may include:

  • The heart muscle and the sac around the heart (pericardium).
  • The heart valves.
  • The coronary arteries. These are the blood vessels that bring blood to your heart muscle.
  • The blood vessels that carry blood from the lungs to the heart.
  • The aorta, which is a large blood vessel that carries blood from the heart to the rest of the body.

How can you prepare for the test?

Talk to your doctor about all of your health conditions before the test. For example, tell your doctor if:

  • You are allergic to any medicines.
  • You are or might be pregnant.
  • You are breastfeeding.
  • You have diabetes.
  • You have a history of kidney problems.
  • You get nervous in confined spaces. You may need medicine to help you relax.

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.

What happens before the test?

  • You may have to take off jewellery.
  • You may need to take off some of your clothes. You will be given a gown to wear during the test. If you do leave some clothes on, make sure you take everything out of your pockets.
  • You may be given a medicine to slow your heart rate before or during the test.

What happens during the test?

  • You may have contrast material (dye) put into your arm or hand through a tube called an IV.
  • You will lie on a table that is attached to the CT scanner.
  • Small pads or patches (electrodes) will be attached to your skin on each arm and leg and on your chest. A special paste or pad may go between the electrode and your skin. The electrodes are hooked to a machine that traces your heart activity onto a paper.
  • The table will slide into the round opening of the scanner and move slightly while the scanner takes pictures. You may hear a click or buzz as the table and scanner move.
  • You will be asked to hold still during the scan. You may be asked to hold your breath for short periods.
  • You may be alone in the scanning room. But the technologist will watch you through a window. You will be able to talk to him or her through an intercom.

What else should you know about the test?

  • A CT scan does not hurt.
  • If the dye is used, you may feel a quick sting or pinch when the IV is started. The dye may make you feel warm and flushed and give you a metallic taste in your mouth. Some people feel sick to their stomach or get a headache.
  • If you breastfeed and are concerned about whether the dye used in this test is safe, talk to your doctor. Most experts believe that very little dye passes into breast milk and even less is passed on to the baby. But if you prefer, you can store some of your breast milk ahead of time and use it for a day or two after the test.
  • The dose of radiation from a CT scanner may be higher than that from other X-ray tests. If you are concerned about the radiation risk, talk to your doctor.

How long does the test take?

  • The test will take about 30 to 60 minutes. Most of this time is spent getting ready for the scan. The actual test takes only a few seconds.

What happens after the test?

  • You will probably be able to go home right away.
  • You can go back to your usual activities right away.
  • If you had dye, drink plenty of fluids for 24 hours after the test to help flush it out of your body.

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse call line if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to keep a list of the medicines you take. Ask your doctor when you can expect to have your test results.

Where can you learn more?

Go to https://www.healthwise.net/patientEd

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