Computed Tomography Angiography
Computed tomography angiography (CTA) is a specialized x-ray that examines blood flow in blood vessels when they are filled with a contrast material. Contrast material is a substance that makes the blood vessels show on an x-ray. Computed tomography (CT) uses a complex machine to take x-rays from many different views, producing detailed 2-dimensional images that can be combined by a computer to form 3-dimensional images.
CTA can be used to view blood vessels throughout the body. It is most commonly used to study the:
- Legs or arms
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Reasons for Test
This test is used to help identify diseased, narrowed, enlarged, and blocked blood vessels and locate where internal bleeding may be occurring. Some specific uses include:
- Detecting atherosclerosis, a narrowing of the arteries
- Detecting an aneurysm, a ballooning out of a section of a blood vessel
- Examining arteries in the lungs to check for blockage of a blood vessel
- Evaluating disease in kidney arteries
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Problems from the procedure are rare, but all procedures have some risk. Your doctor will review potential problems, like:
- Allergic reactions to contrast material
- Excess bleeding
- Kidney damage
What to Expect
Prior to Test
Prior to the surgery, the doctor will do a physical exam.
Talk to your doctor about any medications, herbs, or supplements you are taking. You may have to stop certain medications, food, or beverages before the test.
At the care center:
- You will remove your clothes and put on a gown or robe.
- You will remove all jewelry, hair clips, dentures, and other objects that could show on the x-rays and make the images hard to read.
Description of Test
An IV is placed in a vein, and you will lie down on a narrow table. Pillows and straps may be used to keep you in a certain position. The part of your body that will be studied is moved inside the opening of the CT machine, and a test image is taken. You will be given a small amount of contrast material through the IV to check how long it takes to get to the area to be studied. Next, the IV is connected to an automatic injector and contrast material is injected. Then, the scan begins.
You must stay still during the scan. You will be asked to hold your breath for 10-25 seconds to ensure that the images are not blurred by any movement. It only takes seconds to record all the images needed.
The images are checked. If needed, some are repeated.
During the hours after the procedure, drink extra fluids to help flush the contrast material from your body.
How Long Will It Take?
Will It Hurt?
Although the procedure is not painful, you may feel warm and flushed when contrast material is injected.
The findings will be reported to your doctor, usually within 24 hours. Your doctor will discuss the findings with you and any treatment needed.
Call Your Doctor
Call your doctor if any of these occur:
- Signs of allergic reaction, including flushing, hives, and itching
- Swollen or itchy eyes
- Difficulty breathing or a feeling of tightness in your throat
- Nausea or vomiting
If you think you have an emergency, call for emergency medical services right away.
American Heart Association
Texas Heart Institute
Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada
Cardiac computed tomography (Multidetector CT, or MDCT). American Heart Association website. Available at: http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Conditions/HeartAttack/SymptomsDiagnosisofHeartAttack/Cardiac-Computed-Tomography-Multidetector-CT-or-MDCT_UCM_446370_Article.jsp#.WphUwWrwZQI. Updated September 3, 2015. Accessed March 1, 2018.
Coronary computed tomography angiography (CTA). Radiology Info—Radiological Society of North America website. Available at: https://www.radiologyinfo.org/en/info.cfm?pg=angiocoroct. Updated July 21, 2016. Accessed March 1, 2018.
Last reviewed March 2018 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Michael J. Fucci, DO, FACC Last Updated: 5/2/2014