Health Encyclopedia

Ultrafast CT Scan

What is an ultrafast CT scan?

An ultrafast CT scan is 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 cannot.

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 cannot be seen.

In CT scan, the X-rays move around your body. This gives many views (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.

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 in the heart and 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?

Ultrafast CT is mainly used to diagnose coronary artery disease in people who have risk factors for but no symptoms of the disease.

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

  • See how healthy your coronary arteries are
  • See how damaged your heart is after a heart attack (myocardial infarction)
  • See how open coronary artery bypass grafts are

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 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.

You may have other risks depending on your specific health condition. Be sure to talk with your provider about any concerns you have before the procedure.

How do I get ready for an ultrafast CT scan?

  • Your healthcare provider will explain the procedure to you. Ask him or her 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 provider if you are pregnant or think you may be pregnant.
  • Tell the technologist if you have any body piercing on your chest or abdomen.
  • Follow any other instructions your provider gives you to get ready.

What happens during an ultrafast CT scan?

You may have an ultrafast CT 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 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.
  4. The technologist will control the scan from another room. But he or she 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 remain 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 radiologist 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.

Your healthcare provider may give you 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
  • The risks and benefits of the test or procedure
  • When and where you are to have the test or procedure and who will do it
  • When and how will you get the results
  • How much will you have to pay for the test or procedure

Medical Reviewers:

  • Brown, Kim, APRN
  • MMI board-certified, academically affiliated clinician