A CT scan uses X-ray technology to take multiple pictures of the inside of the body. Compared to regular X-rays, a CT scan can take clearer and more detailed images of organs, bone, soft tissue, blood vessels and other parts of the body.
Why do I Need a CT Scan?
Some of the primary uses for CT scans include:
- Determining the size and location of a tumor
- Diagnosing and treating skeletal problems
- Diagnosing blood vessel diseases
- Guiding biopsies and other tests
- Identifying trauma-related injuries
- Looking for bleeding inside the body, especially in the skull
- Planning radiation treatments for cancer
- Planning surgery
- Studying the chest and abdomen
Are there Complications?
Complications are rare, but no procedure is completely risk-free. If you are planning to have a CT scan, your doctor will review a list of possible complications. These may include:
- Allergic reaction to contrast material
- Damage to the kidney from contrast material
Factors that may increase the risk of complications include:
- Allergies (if you are given a contrast dye during the test)
- Kidney problems (if you are given a contrast dye during the test)
You are exposed to some radiation during a CT scan. Radiation exposure can increase your lifetime risk of cancer. This risk increases the more times you are exposed to radiation. Radiation exposure is more of a concern for pregnant women and children. CT scans are usually not recommended for pregnant women.
Be sure to discuss these risks with your doctor before the test.
What should I Expect?
Prior to the Test
Before the test, your doctor will likely ask about:
- Allergies you may have
- Medicines you take
- Your medical history
- Whether you are pregnant or trying to get pregnant
Before your test, follow your doctor’s instructions regarding any changes to your medications or diet.
- A healthcare professional will explain the test and answer any questions you may have.
- You will remove your clothes and put on a gown or robe.
- You will remove all jewelry, hair clips, dentures and other objects that could show on the X-rays and make the images hard to read.
- If your CT scan includes oral contrast material, you will need to drink the contrast material at this time.
During the CT Scan
You will lie (usually on your back) on a movable bed. The bed will slide into the donut-shaped CT scanner. Depending on the type of scan, an IV line may be placed in your hand or arm. A saline solution and contrast material may be injected into your vein during the test. The technologist will leave the room. They will give you directions using an intercom. The machine will take a series of pictures of the area of your body that is being studied. Your bed may move slightly between pictures.
After the Test
You will need to wait for the technician to review your images. In some cases, more images will need to be taken.
How Long Will It Take?
About 10-15 minutes, depending on how many pictures are needed.
Will It Hurt?
You may feel warm and flushed if contrast material is injected into your vein. Otherwise, you should feel no pain.
The CT images will be sent to a radiologist who will analyze them. Your doctor will receive the results and discuss them with you.
Call Your Doctor
After the test, call your doctor if you experience symptoms of an allergic reaction, such as hives, itching, nausea, swollen or itchy eyes, tight throat or difficulty breathing. Call your doctor if you experience any other symptoms that concern you.
In case of emergency, call 911 immediately.