Computed tomography of the heart

Computed tomography of the heart
Intervention
ICD-9-CM 87.41
OPS-301 code: 3-224

With the advent of subsecond rotation combined with multi-slice CT (up to 320-slices), high resolution and high speed can be obtained at the same time, allowing excellent imaging of the coronary arteries (cardiac CT angiography). Images with an even higher temporal resolution can be formed using retrospective ECG gating. In this technique, each portion of the heart is imaged more than once while an ECG trace is recorded. The ECG is then used to correlate the CT data with their corresponding phases of cardiac contraction. Once this correlation is complete, all data that were recorded while the heart was in motion (systole) can be ignored and images can be made from the remaining data that happened to be acquired while the heart was at rest (diastole). In this way, individual frames in a cardiac CT investigation have a better temporal resolution than the shortest tube rotation time.

Because the heart is effectively imaged more than once (as described above), cardiac CT angiography results in a relatively high radiation exposure around 12 millisievert. At the current time, newer acquisition protocols have been developed drastically reducing the xRays radiation exposure, down to 1 mSv (cfr. Pavone, Fioranelli, Dowe: Computed Tomography or Coronary Arteries, Springer 2009). For the sake of comparison, a chest X-ray carries a dose of approximately 0.02[1] to 0.2 mSv and natural background radiation exposure is around 0.01 mSv/day. Thus, cardiac CTA is equivalent to approximately 100-600 chest X-rays or over 3 years' worth of natural background radiation. Methods are available to decrease this exposure, however, such as prospectively decreasing radiation output based on the concurrently acquired ECG (aka tube current modulation.) This can result in a significant decrease in radiation exposure, at the risk of compromising image quality if there is any arrhythmia during the acquisition. The significance of radiation doses in the diagnostic imaging range has not been proven, although the possibility of inducing an increased cancer risk across a population is a source of significant concern. This potential risk must be weighed against the competing risk of not performing a test and potentially not diagnosing a significant health problem such as coronary artery disease.

It is uncertain whether this modality will replace invasive coronary catheterization. At present, it appears that the greatest utility of cardiac CT lies in ruling out coronary artery disease rather than ruling it in. This is because the test has a high sensitivity (greater than 90%), and, thus, a negative test result means that a patient is very unlikely to have coronary artery disease and can be worked up for other causes of their chest symptoms. This is termed a high negative predictive value. A positive result is less conclusive and often will be confirmed (and possibly treated) with subsequent invasive angiography. The positive predictive value of cardiac CTA is estimated at approximately 82% and the negative predictive value is around 93%.

Dual Source CT scanners, introduced in 2005, allow higher temporal resolution by acquiring a full CT slice in only half a rotation, thus reducing motion blurring at high heart rates and potentially allowing for shorter breath-hold time. This is particularly useful for ill patients having difficulty holding their breath or unable to take heart-rate lowering medication.

The speed advantages of 64-slice MSCT have rapidly established it as the minimum standard for newly installed CT scanners intended for cardiac scanning. Manufacturers have developed 320-slice and true 'volumetric' scanners, primarily for their improved cardiac scanning performance.

The latest MSCT scanners acquire images only at 70-80% of the R-R interval (late diastole). This prospective gating can reduce effective dose from 10-15mSv to as little as 1.2mSv in follow-up patients acquiring at 75% of the R-R interval. Effective doses at a centre with well trained staff doing coronary imaging can average less than the doses for conventional coronary angiography.

References


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