Computed tomography angiography (CTA) is a specialized CT scan optimized to provide detailed pictures of the blood vessels that go to the brain, neck, heart, lungs, abdomen and pelvis, arms and legs. A CTA can reveal whether there is a build-up of plaque within a blood vessel and demonstrate which vessels are blocked, where the blockages are located and the exact amount of blockages present. The exam can also demonstrate if there is a bulge (aneurysm) or tear (dissection) of the blood vessel.
Prior to the development of CTA, this type of exam required an invasive procedure where a catheter was inserted into the blood vessel of interest, dye was injected and X-rays were obtained. This type of procedure, which is called conventional or X-ray angiography, is now rarely performed for diagnostic purposes. CTA has been shown to be a quick, very accurate and minimally invasive exam that avoids the potential risks of bleeding complications and decreases the radiation exposure inherent in conventional angiography. The other type of procedure that is currently being done for diagnostic angiography is magnetic resonance angiography (MRA). Unlike MRA, CTA can be performed in patients with pacemakers and other implantable devices and is often more accurate in assessing certain blood vessels, such as the pulmonary arteries for pulmonary embolism.
Since CTA requires the intravenous administration of contrast, we will ask you to refrain from eating for several hours before the exam. Also, we may ask that blood work be done to check for kidney dysfunction prior to the exam.
The CTA is a specialized CT scan. Similar to the CT scan, the actual time it takes to acquire the images is usually a matter of seconds. It usually takes more time to get situated on the CT table and get everything else set up for the scan. Most scans from start to finish usually take under 10 minutes. You will be lying on a sliding table that will slide you through a large donut shaped machine as the images are obtained. The technologist operating the scanner will be in the adjacent room, and will always have direct communication with you during the scan. A special injector device will be set up and connected to an IV placed in your arm by a nurse or certified technologist. After the examination is complete, the pictures will be reviewed by one of our board certified radiologists and a report will be sent to your doctor.