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Ultrafast CT Scan

What is an ultrafast CT scan?

An ultrafast computed tomography (CT) scan is an imaging test. It's also called electron beam CT (EBCT) scan. It uses X-rays and a computer to look at your heart. The scan takes multiple images of the heart within the time of a single heartbeat. This gives many details of the heart structure and function 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 organs. These 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 (slices) of the same organ or structure in much more detail. The X-ray information is sent to a computer. The computer makes a 2-D image for your healthcare provider to see. IV (intravenous) contrast may also be used. This makes the coronary arteries show up better in the scan.

An ultrafast CT scan shows 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 show 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 1 or more coronary arteries will 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.

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

  • The health of your coronary arteries

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

  • If coronary artery bypass grafts are working

Your healthcare provider may have other reasons to advise 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. Ask about the risks as they apply to you.

Consider writing down all X-rays you get. This includes 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-ray tests and treatments you have over time.

Tell your healthcare provider if you are pregnant or think you may be. 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 health. Tell your healthcare provider about all the medicines you take. Tell them about all your health conditions. This includes 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 appointment. They can 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 will not need medicine to help you relax (sedation).

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

  • Tell the technologist if you have any body piercings on your chest or belly (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. This means you go home the same day. Or you may have this test as part of your stay in a hospital.

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 hospital gown to wear.

  3. You will lie on a scan table. The table will slide into a large, circular opening of the scanning machine. The technologist may use pillows and straps to help you not move during the scan. An IV line may be put in your arm or hand if contrast dye will be used.

  4. The technologist will control the scan from another room. But they will be able to see you through a window. They will be able to talk to you. You will have a call button to tell them 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 to 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 scan table.

  9. You may be asked to wait for a short time while a healthcare provider looks at the scans. You may need more 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.

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: Marianne Fraser MSN RN
Online Medical Reviewer: Raymond Turley Jr PA-C
Online Medical Reviewer: Shaziya Allarakha MD
Date Last Reviewed: 2/1/2024
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