Objectives: Noninvasive imaging is increasingly accepted for the evaluation of atherosclerotic disease of the carotid arteries. We sought to evaluate the feasibility of a low-contrast media volume protocol for carotid computed tomography angiography (CTA) using a 128-slice-spiral-computed tomography scanner with a gantry rotation time of 300 milliseconds.
Methods and materials: Thirty consecutive patients underwent CTA for the evaluation of the carotid vessels, with a 128-section scanner. Fifteen patients were examined with a standard volume contrast injection protocol (group A): 80 mL of contrast material (CM) were injected at 5 mL/s using the test bolus method to assess individual transit time. Another 15 patients were examined with a low-volume contrast media protocol (group B): 30 mL CM were injected at 4 mL/s using bolus tracking to trigger the CTA acquisition. In both groups, contrast administration was followed by a saline flush. Image quality and segmental vascular enhancement as well as the presence and degree of arterial stenosis were independently evaluated by 2 radiologists. Venous enhancement and streak artifacts at the thoracic inlet because of highly concentrated CM in the subclavian veins were evaluated in both groups. Kappa statistic and Pearson correlation coefficient were used to quantify interobserver variability. Qualitative data were compared using the Wilcoxon signed rank test and student t test was used to investigate differences in segmental vessel attenuation.
Results: All studies were of diagnostic quality in both groups. Interobserver agreement was high (kappa = 0.82, group A; kappa = 0.78, group B). Attenuation measurement showed excellent interobserver correlation in both groups (r > 0.9). Mean enhancement values were slightly higher in group A, but without statistical significance when averaged for all segments (P = 0.06). Streak artifacts impaired evaluation of 13 adjacent arterial segments in 8 patients at the level of the thoracic inlet in group A. In group B, only 1 segment was rated insufficient by both radiologists. Venous enhancement was significantly lower in group B (P = 0.04). The low-contrast protocol proved to be the more robust method with constant high arterial enhancement, less streak artifacts at the thoracic inlet, and less venous overlay.
Conclusion: Using the latest CT technology, optimal depiction of the craniocervical arteries can be archived with a low-volume (30 mL) CM protocol.