Atrium Health Navicent Heart & Vascular Care


Computer generated illustration of a CT scan

CT Scans For Vein Disorders and Diseases

When doctors want to know what is going on with a patient's circulatory system, there's only a limited amount of information they can gather by external examination. Modern imaging technologies allow a look inside the body without invasive procedures. One of these imaging options is Computed Tomography (abbreviated CT). A CT scan is a series of individual x-ray images taken by a gantry as it rotates around the patient. These x-rays are fed into software, which creates a 3D representation of the inner body.

CT for Imaging Veins and Arteries

A CT scan reveals the structure and function of the vascular system. It shows weak or damaged blood vessels, as well as any inflammation or blockages. This lets doctors diagnose venal and arterial disorders and diseases, even at early stages. Ultimately, the goal is to catch problems before serious damage occurs, for example preventing future aneurysms or embolisms.

A patient having a CT scan done to examine their veins and arteries will usually need an IV injection of a contrast agent such as iodine. Contrast is necessary because x-rays need to be at least partially blocked by something in the body to show up in imaging. That means x-rays see bones very well, but soft tissue and vascular structures less clearly. Contrast agents partially obstruct passing x-rays, and by circulating through veins and arteries makes, them show up in the best possible detail. CT scan contrast is not radioactive like the dyes and tracers used in nuclear medicine.

Uses for CT

A common procedure used to analyze the blood vessels around the heart is called a Coronary CT Angiography (CTA). This is sometimes used as a noninvasive alternative to traditional cardiac catheterization. A scan is done using iodine contrast and only takes about ten minutes. This scan reveals any fat or calcium plaque buildup in the coronary arteries, and more importantly any blockages present. A CTA is also good at finding so-called "soft" plaque that has not hardened yet but can cause future problems. Similar scans can be done for the blood vessels around other organs.

Other CT scans can be done to check for Peripheral Vascular Disease (PVD), which is any damage or blockage in blood vessels further out from the heart. This includes Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT). CT scans provide a vital tool in finding DVT clots so they can be treated before they can cause embolisms.

CT scans can also be used to find aneurysms, dangerous bulges in the walls of damaged arteries that if left untreated can burst the blood vessel.

CT technology can even be helpful in finding out more about a patient's varicose veins. While often thought of as merely a cosmetic issue, if varicose veins are persistent and resist usual remedies a CT scan may be warranted. CT scans can find deep, hidden varicose veins and even the root disorder in lower body circulation behind the symptoms.

Next Generation CT

Like other medical technologies, Computed Tomography continues to get better. New CT machines are continuously being developed that aim to produce clearer detailed images and faster image acquisition. One new machine can perform a complete CTA on coronary blood vessels within the time of a single heartbeat, and decreases radiation exposure by half. Given these advances, CT scans are likely to become an even bigger part of diagnosing vascular diseases and disorders.