A coronary computed tomography angiogram, also known as a coronary CTA, is a minimally invasive diagnostic procedure used to detect a buildup of fat or calcium within the coronary arteries, the arteries that supply blood to the heart. Through images produced with contrast dye, the coronary CTA examines the blood vessels of the body to help identify any abnormalities.
Reasons for a Coronary CTA
Patients at risk for coronary artery disease should have a coronary CTA to check for early signs of the disease, and help prevent permanent damage. This test is often effective in identifying problems in patients with no symptoms, and is also helpful in diagnosing coronary disease in patients with abnormal symptoms. Additional reasons that a physician may order a coronary CTA include:
- To investigate a possible aneurysm
- To examine blood vessels for atherosclerosis
- To find abnormal blood vessel formations in the brain
- To identify damaged blood vessels
- To identify blood clots that may have traveled
- Evaluate tumors fed by blood vessels
A coronary CTA may help to prevent a heart attack or stroke or prepare a patient for a kidney transplant.
The Coronary CTA Procedure
During the coronary CTA procedure, an iodine contrast dye is injected into a vein in order to produce clear, accurate images. Through the same IV, medication is administered to slow or stabilize the heart rate for better imaging results before X-rays are passed through the body. The results are then used to create 3-D images that can help the doctor identify any signs of coronary artery disease.
Benefits of a Coronary CTA
A coronary CTA is less invasive than most other commonly used heart tests, since it does not require the insertion of a catheter or transport tube into the coronary arteries. The CTA is often useful in screening for coronary artery disease because it is cost- and time-effective and has an extremely low risk of side effects. No radiation is used during this procedure.
Risks of a Coronary CTA
While a coronary CTA is generally a safe procedure, and the amount of radiation used during the CTA is very small, for certain patients its risks may outweigh its benefits. Since contrast dye may damage the kidneys, patients with diabetes or severe kidney disease may not be able to have this test administered. Patients who are pregnant or nursing need to notify their physicians before undergoing this procedure. Risks for other individuals, though rare, are related to the contrast material which may cause allergic reactions or, in the event of leakage at the IV site, tissue damage.