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A computed tomography (CT) scan, also called a CAT scan, is a noninvasive, painless imaging test that can be used to diagnose a variety of medical conditions.
How a CT scan works
A CT scan works like a typical X-ray combined with sophisticated computers that form a three-dimensional model of the inside of your body. During a CT scan, X-rays are directed at your body, which are then absorbed by your different body parts in varying degrees. Unlike an X-ray, CT scans take images of your body at multiple angles, which provide a detailed, multidimensional view inside your body. The CT machine's fast pace reduces your radiation exposure and is especially beneficial in treating the elderly, the critically ill, and children.
A CT scan can examine your:
How to prepare for a CT scan
Your doctor or nurse will give you specific instructions before your exam. In general:
- A light meal before the exam is okay, and fluids are encouraged.
- Wear loose, comfortable clothing.
- Remove or leave at home any metal objects, such as hairpins, jewelry, clothing with zippers, etc.
- Remove dentures and hearing aids before the exam.
Let your technologist or radiologist know if you:
- Are taking any medications, particularly containing metformin (such as Glucophage)
- Have had a reaction to intravenous CT contrast material
- Have a history of heart disease, diabetes, asthma, thyroid problems, multiple myeloma, or kidney disease
CT scan benefits
- Are noninvasive, painless, and accurate
- Show blood vessels, bone, and soft tissue in the same image
- Are much more detailed than traditional X-rays
- Are quick and simple
- Can reveal serious internal injuries and bleeding, which can be lifesaving
CT scan risks
While CT scans do pose some health risks, they are minimal. The benefit of an accurate diagnosis far outweighs the risk of radiation exposure. There is a slight chance of cancer from excessive radiation exposure. However, the amount of radiation exposure from a CT scan equals the amount of radiation exposure the average person receives from his or her daily environment in three to five years.
CT scans are not recommended for women who are pregnant. If you are breastfeeding, wait 24 hours after a contrast material injection before breastfeeding again. CT scans should only be performed on children when necessary for obtaining a diagnosis.
CT scan limits
For detailed images of soft tissue in the brain, pelvic organs, knees, and shoulders, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is a better option than a CT scan.
Our highly trained team of radiologists and technologists specialize in many types of CT scans, including chest scans, abdomen scans, or pelvis scans.