Your physician might want to use computed tomography (CT) imaging, sometimes called a CAT scan, to evaluate the structures of your heart and blood vessels to determine if you have heart disease or a heart defect of some kind. With the aid of a computer and contrast dye, a cardiac CT scan takes numerous pictures and then combines them to form accurate, three-dimensional views of your heart and surrounding blood vessels. A CT scan is especially helpful in seeing if there are any blockages in your arteries caused by plaque buildup. The scan also can be helpful in detecting any defects that may be present.
It is not uncommon for a physician to schedule a cardiac catheterization after viewing the results from a CT scan. The catheterization allows doctors to measure the exact amount of plaque present in the arteries.
Cardiac CT scans take approximately 15 minutes and require little preparation by the patient. Once the scan is completed, a radiologist will read it and identify any calcium build-up. The physician and patient will receive a score within a few days, which explains the amount of calcium present and the risk for developing coronary heart disease.
What to expect during this test or treatment
- You will be asked to change into a hospital gown, and a nurse will insert an intravenous (IV) line into a vein in your arm, where the contrast dye will be administered during your test.
- A technologist will place several small, adhesive electrodes on your chest. These electrodes are connected by thin wires to a heart monitor, which will track the electrical activity of your heart during the test.
- You will lie on a special scanning table with your arms by your side or over your head. You will be asked to remain as still as possible during the test, as movement can alter the quality of the images.
- A contrast dye will be administered through your IV to help produce the images of your heart. It is very common to feel a warm sensation as the contrast dye circulates through your body, but it should not cause you any discomfort.
- The table you are lying on is attached to a large, donut-shaped scanner. The table will move inside the scanner so that pictures of your heart may be taken. If necessary, you may be given medication to help you relax.
- The entire test only lasts about 15 minutes, but you will be asked to wait for a brief period of time afterward to be sure the images are adequate. If not, additional images may be taken.
- After the technologist checks all the images, the IV will be removed and you will be free to leave.
What to expect after this test or treatment
- You will be able to resume your normal activities immediately after the test unless directed otherwise.
- Drinking plenty of fluids will help flush the contrast dye out of your system.
- Your physician will schedule a time to meet with you to discuss the results of the test.
If you have any questions about your care after you return home, call your physician’s office.
This test or treatment is offered at these facilities:
Want to know more about this condition?
Read about coronary heart disease in our Health Information Center.
Print this patient care guide.
To find a physician visit our Find a Doc or call (502) 629-1234 for a physician referral.