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CT angiography - chest

Computed tomography angiography - thorax; CTA - lungs; Pulmonary embolism - CTA chest; Thoracic aortic aneurysm - CTA chest; Venous thromboembolism - CTA lung; Blood clot - CTA lung; Embolus - CTA lung; CT pulmonary angiogram

CT angiography combines a CT scan with the injection of dye. This technique is able to create pictures of the blood vessels in the chest and upper abdomen. CT stands for computed tomography.

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How the Test is Performed

You will be asked to lie on a narrow table that slides into the center of the CT scanner.

While inside the scanner, the machine's x-ray beam rotates around you.

A computer creates multiple separate images of the body area, called slices. These images can be stored, viewed on a monitor, or printed on film. Three-dimensional models of the chest area can be created by stacking the slices together.

You must be still during the exam, because movement causes blurred images. You may be told to hold your breath for short periods of time.

Complete scans usually take only a few minutes. The newest scanners can image your entire body, head to toe, in less than 30 seconds.

How to Prepare for the Test

Certain exams require a special dye, called contrast, to be delivered into the body before the test starts. Contrast helps certain areas show up better on x-rays.

The contrast can worsen kidney function problems in people with poorly functioning kidneys.  Talk to your provider if you have a history of kidney problems.

Too much weight can damage the scanner. If you weigh more than 300 pounds (135 kilograms), talk to your provider about the weight limit before the test.

You will be asked to remove jewelry and wear a hospital gown during the study.

How the Test will Feel

The x-rays produced by the CT scan are painless. Some people may have discomfort from lying on the hard table.

If you have contrast through a vein, you may have a:

This is normal and usually goes away within a few seconds.

Why the Test is Performed

A chest CT angiogram may be done:

Normal Results

Results are considered normal if no problems are seen.

What Abnormal Results Mean

A chest CT may show many disorders of the heart, lungs, or chest area, including:

Risks

Risks of CT scans include:

CT scans use more radiation than regular x-rays. Having many x-rays or CT scans over time may increase your risk for cancer. However, the risk from any one scan is small. You and your provider should weigh this risk against the benefits of getting a correct diagnosis for a medical problem. Most modern scanners use techniques to use less radiation.

Some people have allergies to contrast dye. Let your provider know if you have ever had an allergic reaction to injected contrast dye.

Rarely, the dye may cause a life-threatening allergic response called anaphylaxis. If you have any trouble breathing during the test, you should notify the scanner operator immediately. Scanners come with an intercom and speakers, so someone can hear you at all times.

References

Gilman M. Congenital and developmental diseases of the lungs and airways. In: Digumarthy SR, Abbara S, Chung JH, eds. Problem Solving in Chest Imaging. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2020:chap 15.

Martin RS, Meredith JW. Management of acute trauma. In: Townsend CM Jr, Beauchamp RD, Evers BM, Mattox KL, eds. Sabiston Textbook of Surgery. 20th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2017:chap 16.

Reekers JA. Angiography: principles, techniques and complications. In: Adam A, Dixon AK, Gillard JH, Schaefer-Prokop CM, eds. Grainger & Allison's Diagnostic Radiology: A Textbook of Medical Imaging. 7th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2021:chap 78.

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Review Date: 4/5/2020  

Reviewed By: Denis Hadjiliadis, MD, MHS, Paul F. Harron Jr. Associate Professor of Medicine, Pulmonary, Allergy, and Critical Care, Perelman School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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