“Should I consider cardiac CT angiography in my 76-year-old male patient with chest pain of unclear origin?”  

Probably not!1-4 Although the 2021 AHA/ACC Chest Pain Guidelines have generally widened the scope of indications for cardiac CT angiography (CCTA) to patients at low to intermediate risk of coronary artery disease (CAD) presenting with acute coronary syndrome (ACS)1 (with or without known CAD), several caveats should be considered before ordering this test. In general preference is given to patients with the following characteristics: 

  • Age sixty-five years of age or younger.  Elderly are not ideal candidates for CCTA as the calcium burden may be too high, rendering the test non-diagnostic due to the interference with proper coronary artery lumen assessment. Women tend not to accumulate as much calcium and their age threshold may be increased to 70 years. Some studies like the ROMICAT II Trial extended the age up to 74 years.4 
  • BMI <40.2
  • Sinus rhythm. Atrial fibrillation can be circumvented with expanded padding techniques, albeit at higher radiation exposure.2
  • Without coronary stents, unless their stents are > 3.0 mm in diameter (eg, in left main, very proximal left anterior descending, circumflex or right coronary stents).2
  • Without high coronary calcium burden, or without multiple risk factors for CAD (eg, type 2 diabetes, hypertension, hyperlipidemia) in the setting of typical anginal chest pain.1
  • Other technical requirements: must be able to hold breath during procedure, not have contraindications to beta blockers (ideal heart rate <60 bpm), not have an iodinated contrast allergy, and have stable kidney function.2

Despite these caveats, many patients may still be able to undergo CCTA to help exclude coronary causes of their chest pain.  For example, a 49-year-old patient at low to intermediate risk of CAD presenting with atypical chest pain can potentially undergo CCTA and, if negative, be discharged the same day!4  

In our patient, however, given his older age, CCTA is likely to be non-diagnostic and proceeding to an alternative test, such as stress test or invasive coronary angiography (depending on circumstances and pre-test probability), may be a better option.  

Bonus Pearl: Did you know that, as a “bonus”,  CCTA provides a “free” look at the lungs, calcium score (used largely in asymptomatic patients to help weigh pros and cons of starting a statin)3, and other cardiopulmonary structures that may hint at alternative diagnoses for the cause of chest discomfort and/or dyspnea?

Contributed by Eldin Duderija MD, Cardiologist, Mercy Clinic, St. Louis, Missouri


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  1. Gulati M, Levy P, et al. 2021 AHA/ACC/ASE/CHEST/SAEM/SCCT/SCMR Guideline for the Evaluation and Diagnosis of Chest Pain. J Am Coll Cardiol. 2021;78:e187–e285. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/34709879/
  2. Raff GL, Chinnaiyan KM, Cury RC, Garcia MT, Hecht HS, Hollander JE, O’Neil B, Taylor AJ, Hoffmann U; Society of Cardiovascular Computed Tomography Guidelines Committee. SCCT guidelines on the use of coronary computed tomographic angiography for patients presenting with acute chest pain to the emergency department: a report of the Society of Cardiovascular Computed Tomography Guidelines Committee. J Cardiovasc Comput Tomogr 2014;8:254-71. doi: 10.1016/j.jcct.2014.06.002. Epub 2014 Jun 12. PMID: 25151918. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25151918/
  3. Hecht H, Blaha MJ, Berman DS, Nasir K, Budoff M, Leipsic J, Blankstein R, Narula J, Rumberger J, Shaw LJ. Clinical indications for coronary artery calcium scoring in asymptomatic patients: Expert consensus statement from the Society of Cardiovascular Computed Tomography. J Cardiovasc Comput Tomogr 2017;11:157-168. doi: 10.1016/j.jcct.2017.02.010. Epub 2017 Feb 24. PMID: 28283309. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28283309/
  4. Hoffmann, Udo, et al. “Coronary CT angiography versus standard evaluation in acute chest pain.” N Engl J Med 2012;367:299-308. https://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/nejmoa1201161

Disclosures: The listed questions and answers are solely the responsibility of the author and do not necessarily represent the official views of Mercy Hospital-St. Louis, Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard Catalyst, Harvard University, their affiliate academic healthcare centers, or its contributors. Although every effort has been made to provide accurate information, the author is far from being perfect. The reader is urged to verify the content of the material with other sources as deemed appropriate and exercise clinical judgment in the interpretation and application of the information provided herein. No responsibility for an adverse outcome or guarantees for a favorable clinical result is assumed by the author. Thank you!


“Should I consider cardiac CT angiography in my 76-year-old male patient with chest pain of unclear origin?”