What are the Different Types of Tests to Image the Aorta?

There are many types of tests to image (take a picture of) your child’s aorta (large artery that runs down the center of the body) and its branches. These tests can check the size and shape of the aorta. In people with certain genetic conditions, the aorta can be larger (dilated) or smaller (hypoplastic) than normal.

Types of Aortic Imaging Tests

Echocardiogram

  • What the test does: A type of ultrasound that makes pictures of the heart and blood vessels
  • Radiation: No
  • Contrast: No
  • Important things to know: 
    • An echocardiogram is less useful in people who have overweight, a thicker chest wall or a chest with an unusual shape.
    • The echocardiogram cannot image the entire length of the aorta.

MRI with angiography (MRA)

  • What the test does:  An MRI uses magnets to image the heart and blood vessels.  Pictures from an MRI are clearer than an echocardiogram. An MRI can also image the entire length of the aorta.  Angiography uses contrast. This makes the best pictures of the aorta and blood vessels.
  • Radiation: No
  • Contrast: Yes
  • Important things to know: 
    • Contrast is a safe dye injected into a vein through an IV. The dye helps make pictures as clear as possible.
    • The IV needle hurts, but it will be over quickly.
    • Some children might need sedation or anesthesia (medication to help them feel relaxed or fall asleep) before the test.

CT scan with angiography (CTA)

  • What the test does: A CTA is a type of X-ray that makes pictures of the heart and blood vessels.
  • Radiation: Yes, but a small dose
  • Contrast: Yes
  • Important things to know: 
    • Doctors usually do not use sedation or anesthesia for a CTA.

Did You Know?

The Child Life team at MassGeneral Hospital for Children (MGHfC) can help your child before, during and after an imaging test. Ask your child’s care team if you would like to learn more about Child Life.