Cardiac CT

Cardiac computed tomography (CT) is a non-invasive test that can be used to evaluate various parts of the heart.

A CT scan, also known as a CAT scan, is a noninvasive test where an X-ray machine rotates around a patient’s body while they lie on a table. Unlike traditional X-rays, a CT scanner makes highly detailed images of the internal organs and, in many cases, is able to distinguish healthy tissue from diseased tissue.

Because the heart is moving, creating a cardiac CT scan is more difficult than for other body parts, like the brain. However, new CT technology at Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH) is able to accurately image the heart in most patients.

BWH offers one of the few multidisciplinary cardiovascular imaging programs in the country that includes cardiologists, radiologists, and other imaging experts. The BWH Cardiovascular Imaging Program combines the treatment, education, and research expertise of multiple disciplines – cardiology, radiology, nuclear medicine, molecular biology, medical physics, and chemistry – and incorporates the use of all available imaging types, including echocardiography, cardiac CT, cardiac MRI, nuclear cardiology, PET/CT, CT/MRI, and ultrasound.

Our patients with heart and vascular conditions have access to top specialists throughout the fields of cardiovascular medicine, cardiac surgery, cardiac imaging, vascular surgery, and cardiac anesthesia. These physicians practice at the BWH Heart & Vascular Center, consistently ranked as one of the top 10 “Cardiology & Heart Surgery” providers in U.S. News and World Report’s annual “America’s Best Hospitals” survey.

Cardiac CT Topics

Why Have Cardiac CT?

Cardiac CT can be used to evaluate the cause of chest discomfort and/or shortness of breath in patients who do not have a prior history of coronary artery disease, such as prior heart attacks or coronary stents. Cardiac CT also can be used to evaluate for the presence or absence of coronary artery disease in patients who had stress tests with uncertain findings.

Other uses of cardiac CT:

  • Help physicians choose the most appropriate type of valve replacement and plan the procedure. 
  • Help evaluate heart valves when echocardiography results are inconclusive, especially in patients with prosthetic valves.
  • Evaluate patients who have known or suspected congenital heart disease.
  • Look for disease in bypass grafts.
  • Assess particular diseases in pediatric patients, such as Kawasaki’s disease.
  • Assessment of cardiac masses.
  • Evaluate pulmonary veins before or after electrophysiology ablation procedures.
  • Evaluate a known or suspected coronary artery abnormality.
Cardiac CT Procedures

The two types of cardiac CT most commonly performed are:

Coronary CT angiography

This is the most common type of cardiac CT. Coronary CT angiography is performed to visualize the blood vessels (coronary arteries) that supply the heart muscle. The presence of fatty deposits (plaque) within these arteries indicates the presence of coronary artery disease. In some individuals, plaque buildup can limit blood flow to the heart muscle and result in symptoms of chest discomfort or shortness of breath, typically during physical activity. However, these symptoms often can be caused by other reasons and are not related to heart disease.    

Coronary artery calcium scan

A coronary artery calcium scan is performed to detect the presence (and if present, quantify the amount) of coronary artery calcium in patients who do not have any known coronary artery disease. The presence of calcium indicates the presence of coronary plaque.

The physician can use the information from this test, together with other risk factor information, such as blood pressure and cholesterol levels, to determine a patient’s future risk of having a heart attack or stroke. Patients with coronary plaque have a higher risk of future events and are more likely to benefit from treatment with cholesterol-lowering medications or aspirin than those who have no evidence of plaque.

What You Should Expect

The Heart & Vascular Center is located in the Shapiro Cardiovascular Center, across the street from BWH’s main 75 Francis Street entrance. The Heart & Vascular Center brings together the full range of cardiovascular services in one location, fostering seamless and coordinated care for all patients.

Prior to your imaging procedure, you will check in at the Cardiovascular Imaging Center in the Shapiro Cardiovascular Center. During your procedure, family and friends can wait in the Shapiro Family Center.

Multidisciplinary Care

In addition to our cardiovascular imaging experts, patients also benefit from the teamwork of cardiologists, interventional cardiologists, cardiac surgeons, cardiac electrophysiologists, and anesthesiologists, all experts in cardiovascular disorders. These specialists work alongside nurses, physician assistants, physical therapists, dietitians, and social workers to achieve better outcomes for patients.

Resources

Learn more about cardiac catheterization in our health library.

Visit the Kessler Health Education Library in the Bretholtz Center for Patients and Families.

Access a complete directory of patient and family services.

Learn about the Watkins Clinic in the Shapiro Cardiovascular Center.

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