Coronary CT Angiogram
For people experiencing chest pain or who are at high risk for coronary artery disease, Overlake offers advanced coronary CT angiography (CCTA). Our accredited CT program features a state-of-the-art CT scanner with a wide tunnel opening that uses the lowest possible amount of radiation.
Our heart specialists use CCTA to diagnose coronary artery disease that causes chest pain and heart attacks. CCTA is painless and noninvasive.
Our Cardiovascular Imaging Program is overseen by Joel Wilson, MD, who is among the nation’s few cardiologists with fellowship training in cardiac imaging. We offer a fast and precise interpretation of your CCTA scans, and patients who choose Overlake for heart treatment enjoy outcomes that are often better than any other hospital in our region.
What is a coronary CT angiogram (CCTA)?
A CCTA is used to look for blockages in the coronary arteries that carry blood to your heart. These blockages increase your risk of a heart attack.
A CCTA uses a CT scanner and an IV contrast fluid (iodine dye) to take moving 3D images of your heart and blood vessels. As the iodine liquid travels through the arteries, the blood vessels show up brighter and clearer on the scans. Our state-of-the-art CT scanner provides your doctor with high-resolution images of all angles and sections of the heart and blood vessels.
What is the purpose of a CCTA?
A CCTA finds hardened (calcified) plaques that build up inside the coronary arteries and block blood flow to the heart. Unlike a coronary calcium score test (another noninvasive CT test for coronary artery disease), CCTA shows soft plaques in the arteries that will eventually harden or calcify without treatment. The test can also identify structural problems with the heart or blood vessels.
Our heart specialists use the results from a CCTA to customize a treatment plan that lowers your chances of having a heart attack.
What are the benefits of a CCTA?
A CCTA takes about 20 minutes, and it carries less risk than a cardiac catheterization and coronary angiogram (a more invasive test for detecting coronary artery disease). Cardiac catheterization involves threading a thin tube (catheter) through a blood vessel to reach the heart. During the angiogram part of the test, contrast iodine is injected into the catheter as a machine takes X-rays.
With CCTA, there’s no need for sedation or a catheter. CCTA is also safe for people who can’t get cardiac MRIs. The MRI test uses a magnetic field, making it unsafe for people who have certain types of heart rhythm devices.
What are the risks of a CCTA?
A CCTA is a relatively safe test, but it does use low doses of ionizing radiation to take the images. Repeated exposure to radiation can be harmful. The amount of radiation exposure during a CCTA is extremely small.
A small number of people experience an allergic reaction to the IV contrast iodine solution. Your care team monitors you closely during and after the test, looking for any signs of a reaction. When needed, we give medication to stop a reaction.
People with kidney problems may need a different test because the dye can harm the kidneys.
What should you expect when getting a CCTA?
Getting a CCTA requires lying still inside a tube-like machine for about 15 minutes. It doesn’t require sedation, and you’re able to go home the same day. For your comfort, the dedicated cardiac CT scanner at Overlake has a wider opening than most CT scanners. If you experience claustrophobia, our CT technologists can help you complete the test safely.
What should you expect before a CCTA?
If needed, your doctor may prescribe medication to slow your heart rate during the test. You may need to take this medicine before coming to the hospital or as soon as you arrive. Some people get the medicine through an IV immediately before the test.
What should you expect during a CCTA?
One of our specialized cardiac imaging technologists operates the CT scanner from another room. A window between the rooms, as well as a two-way intercom system, enables you and the technologist to communicate during the test. You should alert the technologist if you start to feel claustrophobic or unwell.
During a CCTA, you:
- Lie on your back on a scan table with your arms above your head.
- Get electrocardiogram (ECG) leads placed on your chest to monitor your heart rate.
- Receive IV medicine to slow your heart rate (if needed).
- Get an IV injection of a contrast agent (iodine). You may temporarily feel a warm sensation in your body or have a metallic taste in your mouth.
- Stay still as the table slides inside the scanner’s wide circular opening.
- Hold your breath for a few seconds while the scanner takes images. (The technologist will tell you when to do this.) You may hear some mild clicking or whirring sounds.
What should you expect after a CCTA?
Your care team will monitor you for up to 60 minutes for signs of an allergic reaction to the contrast dye.
Our cardiac imaging team led by Joel Wilson, MD will review your scans. Most people go home soon after the test and meet with their cardiologists later to learn more about the scan results and next steps. In the rare instance the test finds a life-threatening problem, you will require immediate treatment. Your test results are also available in MyChart.
Should you need treatments for coronary artery disease, our interventional cardiology team is skilled in coronary angioplasty. This catheter-based procedure opens blocked coronary arteries. For more severe blockages, you may get coronary artery bypass grafting (CABG) through our accredited Cardiothoracic Surgery Program.