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What is CT Angiography?

CT (computed tomography) angiography (CTA) is an examination that uses x-rays to visualize blood flow in arterial and venous vessels throughout the body, from arteries serving the brain to those bringing blood to the lungs, kidneys, and arms and legs. CT combines the use of x-rays with computerized analysis of the images. Beams of x-rays are passed from a rotating device through the area of interest in the patient's body from several different angles to create cross-sectional images, which then are assembled by computer into a three-dimensional picture of the area being studied. Compared to catheter angiography, which involves placing a sizable catheter and injecting contrast material into a large artery or vein, CTA is a much less invasive and more patient-friendly procedureócontrast material is injected into a small peripheral vein by using a small needle or catheter. This type of exam has been used to screen large numbers of individuals for arterial disease. Most patients undergo CT angiography without being admitted to a hospital.

What are some common uses of the procedure?

CTA is commonly used to:

  • Examine the pulmonary arteries in the lungs to rule out pulmonary embolism, a serious but treatable condition.
  • Visualize blood flow in the renal arteries (those supplying the kidneys) in patients with high blood pressure and those suspected of having kidney disorders. Narrowing (stenosis) of a renal artery is a cause of high blood pressure (hypertension) in some patients and can be corrected. A special computerized method of viewing the images makes renal CT angiography a very accurate examination. Also done in prospective kidney donors.
  • Identify aneurysms in the aorta or in other major blood vessels. Aneurysms are diseased areas of a weakened blood vessel wall that bulges outólike a bulge in a tire. Aneurysms are life-threatening because they can rupture.
  • Identify dissection in the aorta or its major branches. Dissection means that the layers of the artery wall peel away from each otherólike the layers of an onion. Dissection can cause pain and can be life-threatening.
  • Identify a small aneurysm or arteriovenous malformation inside the brain that can be life threatening.
  • Detect atherosclerotic disease that has narrowed the arteries to the legs.
  • Detect thrombosis (clots) in veins, for example large veins in the pelvis and legs. Such clots can travel to the lungs and result in pulmonary embolism.

CTA is also used to detect narrowing or obstruction of arteries in the pelvis and in the carotid arteries, which bring blood from the heart to the brain. When a stent has been placed to restore blood flow in a diseased artery, CTA will show whether it is serving its purpose. Examining arteries in the brain may help reach a correct diagnosis in patients who complain of headaches, dizziness, ringing in the ears or fainting. Injured patients may benefit from CTA if there is a possibility that one or more arteries have been damaged. In patients with a tumor, it may be helpful for the surgeon to know the details of arteries feeding the growth.

How should I prepare for the procedure?

Depending on the part of the body to be examined, you may be asked to take only clear liquids by mouth before CTA. You may be asked whether you have asthma or any allergies to foods or drugs, and what medications you are currently taking. If you are pregnant, you should inform the technologist before the procedure. You probably will not have to undress if you are undergoing an exam of the head, neck, arms or legs but you will have to remove any jewelry, hair clips, dentures and the like that could show up on the x-rays and make them hard to interpret.

For more information go to Radiologyinfo.org