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Ultrafast CT Scan

What is an ultrafast CT scan?

An ultrafast computed tomography (CT) scan is also called electron beam CT scan. It's an imaging test that uses X-rays and a computer to look at your heart. The scan takes pictures very quickly. It gives your healthcare provider many details about your heart that other imaging tests can’t. It can make high-quality pictures of the beating heart.

Standard X-rays use a small amount of radiation to create images of your bones and internal organs. Standard X-rays are useful to help diagnose illness. But many details about internal organs and other structures can’t be seen.

In a CT scan, the X-rays move around your body. This gives many views or slices of the same organ or structure in much greater detail. The X-ray information is sent to a computer. The computer makes a 2-D image that your healthcare provider can look at.  IV (intravenous) contrast may also be used to make the coronary arteries show up better in the scan.

An ultrafast CT scan shows your healthcare provider even more details about your heart’s structure and how well your heart is working. It also can be done in much less time than a regular CT scan.

Ultrafast CT scans can see early signs of coronary artery disease. These signs are very small amounts of calcium and blockages in the coronary arteries. This calcium may predict that one or more coronary arteries will eventually become blocked. A blocked artery can cause chest pain, or even a heart attack.

Why might I need an ultrafast CT scan?

An ultrafast CT scan is mainly used to diagnose coronary artery disease in people who are at risk but have no symptoms of the disease.

You may need an ultrafast CT scan if your healthcare provider needs to check:

  • Health of your coronary arteries

  • Damage to your heart after a heart attack (myocardial infarction)

  • If coronary artery bypass grafts were successful

Your healthcare provider may have other reasons to recommend an ultrafast CT scan.

What are the risks of an ultrafast CT scan?

You may want to ask your healthcare provider about the amount of radiation used during the test. Also ask about the risks as they apply to you.

Consider writing down all X-rays you get, including past scans and X-rays for other health reasons. Show this list to your healthcare provider. The risks of radiation exposure may be tied to the number of X-rays you have and the X-ray treatments you have over time.

Tell your healthcare provider if you are pregnant or think that you might be pregnant. Radiation exposure during pregnancy may lead to birth defects. Let your healthcare provider know if you are breastfeeding. This is because contrast dye can pass into your breastmilk. If you must have contrast dye for the scan, you may want to pump and save enough breastmilk for 1 to 2 days after your test. Or you may bottle-feed your baby for that time.

You may have other risks depending on your specific health condition. Tell your healthcare provider about all the medicines you are taking and about all your health problems, including allergies, diabetes, asthma, COPD, and kidney disease. 

Make a list of questions you have about the procedure. Discuss these questions and any concerns with your healthcare provider before the procedure. Consider bringing a family member or trusted friend to the medical appointment to help you remember your questions and concerns.

How do I get ready for an ultrafast CT scan?

  • Your healthcare provider will explain the procedure to you. Ask them any questions you have about the procedure.

  • You do not need to stop eating or drinking before the test. You also will not need medicine to help you relax (sedation).

  • Tell your healthcare provider if you are pregnant or think you may be pregnant or are breastfeeding.

  • Tell the technologist if you have any body piercing on your chest or abdomen.

  • Follow any other instructions your healthcare provider gives you to get ready.

What happens during an ultrafast CT scan?

You may have an ultrafast CT scan as an outpatient or as part of your stay in a hospital. The way the test is done may vary depending on your condition and your healthcare provider's practices.

Generally, an ultrafast CT scan follows this process:

  1. You will be asked to remove any jewelry or other objects that may get in the way of the scan.

  2. You may be asked to remove clothing. If so, you will be given a gown to wear.

  3. You will lie on a scan table that slides into a large, circular opening of the scanning machine. The technologist may use pillows and straps to help you keep from moving during the scan. An IV line may be placed if contrast will be used.

  4. The technologist will control the scan from another room. But they will be able to see you through a window. The technologist will also be able to talk to you. You will have a call button to tell the technologist if you have any problems during the scan.

  5. The scanner will begin to rotate around you. You will hear clicking sounds. These are normal.

  6. It is important that you stay very still during the scan. Moving can affect the quality of the images.

  7. At times during the scan, you will be told to hold your breath for a few seconds.

  8. Once the scan is done, you can get up from the scanner.

  9. You may be asked to wait for a short time while the doctor looks at the scans. You may need additional scans if the first batch is not clear and complete.

What happens after an ultrafast CT scan?

You may go back to your usual activities as directed by your healthcare provider. You may be given other instructions, depending on your situation.

Next steps

Before you agree to the test or the procedure make sure you know:

  • The name of the test or procedure

  • The reason you are having the test or procedure

  • What results to expect and what they mean

  • The risks and benefits of the test or procedure

  • What the possible side effects or complications are

  • When and where you are to have the test or procedure

  • Who will do the test or procedure and what that person’s qualifications are

  • What would happen if you did not have the test or procedure

  • Any alternative tests or procedures to think about

  • When and how you will get the results

  • Who to call after the test or procedure if you have questions or problems

  • How much you will have to pay for the test or procedure

Online Medical Reviewer: Neil Grossman MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Raymond Turley Jr PA-C
Online Medical Reviewer: Stacey Wojcik MBA BSN RN
Date Last Reviewed: 8/1/2021
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