Cardiac Computed Tomography


A traditional CT scan is an x-ray procedure that combines many x-ray images with the aid of a computer to generate cross-sectional views of the body. Cardiac CT uses the advanced CT technology with intravenous (IV) contrast (dye) to visualize your cardiac anatomy, coronary circulation and great vessels. Cleveland Clinic uses state-of-the-art multi-row detector CT scanners. With multi-slice scanning, it is possible to acquire high-resolution three-dimensional images of the moving heart and great vessels.

A cardiac computed tomography also may be called a coronary CT angiography, MSCT, CT, cardiac CT, coronary CTA or cardiac CAT scan.

Cardiac CTs are used to evaluate:

  • The heart muscle
  • The coronary arteries
  • The pulmonary veins
  • The thoracic and abdominal aorta
  • The sac around the heart (pericardium)

Test Details

How to prepare

  • Avoid any caffeinated drinks on the day before or the day of your exam. Coffee, tea, energy drinks, or caffeinated sodas.
  • Avoid energy or diet pills on the day before or the day of your exam (ask your doctor if you have questions).
  • Do not use Viagra or any similar medication on the day before or the day of the exam. It is not compatible with the medications you will receive during the procedure (ask your doctor if you have questions).
  • On the day of your exam, do not eat for four hours prior to your scheduled appointment. You may drink water.
  • If you are diabetic, ask your physician how to adjust your medications the day of your test. If you think your blood sugar is low, tell the technologist immediately.
  • Tell your technologist and your doctor if you are:
    • pregnant
    • allergic to iodine and/or shellfish or any medications
    • undergoing radiation therapy
    • over 60 years old or have a history of kidney problems (you may be required to have a blood test to evaluate your kidney fucntions prior to recieiving any contrast agent)

What to expect

  • You will change into a hospital gown.
  • A nurse will insert an IV line into a vein in your arm to administer contrast (dye) during your procedure.
  • You will lie on a special scanning table.
  • The technologist will clean three small areas of your chest and place small, sticky electrode patches on these areas. Men may expect to have their chest partially shaved to help the electrodes stick. The electrodes are attached to an electrocardiograph (EKG) monitor, which charts your heart’s electrical activity during the test.
  • You will lie on the scanner table, and you will be asked to raise your arms over your head for the duration of the exam.
  • During the scan, you will feel the table move inside a donut-shaped scanner. You will receive a contrast agent through your IV to help produce the images. It is common to feel a warm sensation as the contrast circulates through your body.
  • Once the technologist is sure that all the information is collected, the IV will be removed.

The entire procedure may take 30 to 45 minutes, but the actual CT scan only takes a few seconds.

After the procedure

  • You may continue all normal activities and eat as usual after the test.
  • Your physician will discuss the results of your test with you.

Please ask your doctor if you have any questions about the cardiac CT.

Are there any risks with CT?

A CT scan is a low risk procedure. Occasionally, patients experience an adverse reaction to the contrast agent. Some patients develop itching or a rash following the injection. These symptoms are usually self-limiting and resolve without further treatment. Antihistamines can be administered if needed for symptomatic relief. Rarely, a more serious allergic reaction, called an anaphylactic reaction, occurs that may result in breathing difficulty. This reaction is potentially life-threatening and would require medications and treatment to reverse the symptoms. CT scanners use x-rays. For your safety, the amount of radiation exposure is kept to a minimum. Because x-rays can harm a developing fetus, however, this procedure is not recommended if you are pregnant.

To schedule an appointment, you or your doctor may call 800.223.2273, extension 57050.

Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 02/12/2019.

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