What is an ultrafast CT scan?

In conventional x-rays, a beam of energy is aimed at the body part being studied. A plate behind the body part captures the variations of the energy beam after it passes through skin, bone, muscle, and other tissue. While much information can be obtained from a regular x-ray, specific detail about internal organs and other structures is not available.

With computerized tomography (also called CT or CAT scan), the x-ray beam moves in a circle around the body. This allows many different views of the same organ or structure, and provides much greater detail. The x-ray information is sent to a computer which interprets the x-ray data and displays it in two-dimensional form on a monitor.

A new technology called ultrafast CT (also known as electron-beam tomography, or EBT) is now used, in some cases, to diagnose heart disease. Ultrafast CT can take multiple images of the heart within the time of a single heartbeat, thus, providing more detail about the heart's function and structures, and also greatly decreasing the amount of time required for a study.

  • In some cases, ultrafast CT can be used to diagnose problems involving abnormal fetal development before a baby is born, such as diaphragmatic hernia and congenital heart defects. In these cases, the mother undergoes testing to evaluate the health of her unborn child.
  • Ultrafast CT scan may also be used to evaluate selected heart defects after birth.

What is the preparation for an ultrafast CT scan?

An ultrafast CT scan can be performed with or without contrast dye. If your child's physician schedules an ultrafast CT scan of the heart or chest and decides to use contrast dye, your child may need to be NPO (fasting, nothing by mouth) for several hours prior to the procedure. You will receive instructions about this from your child's physician or another healthcare professional.

You will need to let your child's physician know if your child has ever had a reaction to any contrast dye, or if he/she is allergic to iodine or seafood. If your teenage daughter is pregnant or could be pregnant, you should notify the physician prior to the procedure.

How is the ultrafast CT scan performed?

The ultrafast CT scanner is located in a large room. Your child will lie on a narrow table that slides into the hollow tube-shaped scanner.

Your child will have an intravenous (IV) line if contrast medication is being used. The contrast medication may be injected prior to the procedure or during the procedure.

The CT physician and staff will be in an adjacent room where the equipment controls are located. However, they will be able to see your child through a large window and will be monitoring him/her constantly during the procedure. If your child is not sedated, he/she will be given a call bell device to let the staff know if he/she needs anything during the procedure. Speakers are located inside the scanner so that your child can hear instructions from the CT staff and they can hear your child respond.

Once the procedure begins, your child will need to be remain very still at all times so that movement will not adversely affect the quality of the images. At intervals, he/she will be instructed to hold his/her breath, if possible, for a few seconds. He/she will then be told when to breathe. Your child should not have to hold his/her breath for longer than a few seconds, so this should not be uncomfortable. Young children who cannot hold still for the procedure may be given medication to help them relax or sleep during the ultrafast CT scan.

If the ultrafast CT scan is being done "with and without contrast," your child will receive contrast medication through an IV about halfway through the procedure. He/she may feel a warm or flushed sensation just after the dye goes into the vein - this is normal and the sensation will go away shortly.

Once the procedure is finished, the table will slide out of the scanner. If your child received medication for relaxation or sleep, he/she will be monitored until the medication wears off and he/she is awake again. If an IV was inserted, it will be taken out after the procedure is over and your child is awake.

You may be asked to wait for a short time while the radiologist reviews the scans to make sure they are clear and complete.

What happens after the procedure?

Without sedation, your child should be able to resume normal activities immediately, unless your child's physician instructs you otherwise.

With sedation, your child may feel groggy, tired, or sleepy for a period of several hours after the procedure. However, the sedation effects should disappear within a day.

Depending on the results of the ultrafast CT scan, additional tests or procedures may be scheduled to gather further diagnostic information.