How are CT scans and MRIs used to detect heart arrhythmias?

Douglas E. Severance, MD
Family Medicine
Sometimes doctors use cardiac computerized tomography (CT) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to detect and diagnose heart conditions, including heart arrhythmias. With a cardiac CT scan (coronary calcium scan) you will lie flat on a table surrounded by a doughnut-shaped scanner. An X-ray tube located inside the machine rotates around your body and emits radiation at different angles, capturing images of your chest and heart. The scan detects plaque build up in the arteries of the heart causing coronary heart disease. Coronary heart disease can cause arrhythmias. A cardiac MRI uses radio waves and a powerful magnet rather than X-rays to gather accurate information about the heart. A computer uses this information to generate realistic pictures and videos of the heart as it is beating and can help diagnose the cause of the arrhythmia. MRIs do not have the radiation exposure of a CT scan or X-rays. While it can show some problems better than other imaging methods, in some situations your doctor may also order a CT scan or a combination of tests to make an accurate diagnosis.

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