Computed tomography angiography - brain; CTA - skull; CTA - cranial; TIA-CTA head; Stroke-CTA head; Computed tomography angiography - neck; CTA - neck; Vertebral artery - CTA; Carotid artery stenosis - CTA; Vertebrobasilar - CTA; Posterior circulation ischemia - CTA; TIA - CTA neck; Stroke - CTA neck
CT angiography (CTA) combines a CT scan with the injection of dye. CT stands for computed tomography. This technique is able to create pictures of the blood vessels in the head and neck.
You will be asked to lie on a narrow table that slides into the center of the CT scanner.
While inside the scanner, the machine's x-ray beam rotates around you.
A computer creates many separate images of the body area, called slices. These images can be stored, viewed on a monitor, or printed on film. Three-dimensional models of the head and neck area can be created by stacking the slices together.
You must be still during the exam, because movement causes blurred images. You may be told to hold your breath for short periods of time.
Complete scans usually take only a few seconds. The newest scanners can image your entire body, head to toe, in less than 30 seconds.
Certain exams require a special dye, called contrast, to be delivered into the body before the test starts. Contrast helps certain areas show up better on x-rays.
The contrast can worsen kidney function problems in people with poorly functioning kidneys. Talk to your provider if you have a history of kidney problems.
Too much weight can damage the scanner. If you weigh more than 300 pounds (135 kilograms), talk to your provider about the weight limit before the test.
You will be asked to remove jewelry and wear a hospital gown during the study.
Some people may have discomfort from lying on the hard table.
If you have contrast through a vein, you may have a:
This is normal and usually goes away within a few seconds.
CTA of the head may be done to look for the cause of:
CTA of the neck may also be done:
Results are considered normal if no problems are seen.
Abnormal results may be due to:
Risks of CT scans include:
CT scans use more radiation than regular x-rays. Having many x-rays or CT scans over time may increase your risk for cancer. However, the risk from any one scan is small. You and your provider should weigh this risk against the benefits of getting a correct diagnosis for a medical problem. Most modern scanners use techniques to use less radiation.
Some people have allergies to contrast dye. Let your provider know if you have ever had an allergic reaction to injected contrast dye.
Rarely, the dye may cause a life-threatening allergic response called called anaphylaxis. Tell the scanner operator right away if you have any trouble breathing during the test. Scanners come with an intercom and speakers, so the operator can hear you at all times.
A CT scan can reduce or avoid the need for invasive procedures to diagnose problems in the skull. This is one of the safest ways to study the head and neck.
Other tests that may be done instead of CT scan of the head include:
Broder J, Preston R. Imaging the head and brain. In: Broder J, ed. Diagnostic Imaging for the Emergency Physician. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2011:chap 1.
Jackson JE, Meaney JFM. Angiography. In: Adam A, Dixon AK, Gillard JH, Schaefer-Prokop CM, eds. Grainger and Allison's Diagnostic Radiology: A Textbook of Medical Imaging. 6th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2015:chap 84.
Last reviewed on: 3/30/2016
Reviewed by: Jason Levy, MD, Northside Radiology Associates, Atlanta, GA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.