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CT Scan

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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

CT scans:

  • 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

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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 team

Our highly trained team of radiologists and technologists specialize in many types of CT scans, including chest scans, abdomen scans, or pelvis scans.

What to expect during a CT scan

During the exam, you will lie on a moveable exam table. Your technologist may use straps or pillows to position you correctly so you can remain still during the exam.

If your scan requires contrast dye, your technologist will insert an IV into your arm or hand. Contrast material can help your radiologist distinguish between normal and abnormal tissue, and can help produce a clear picture of your blood vessels and organs.

Then, lying on the exam table, you will move quickly through the CT scanner so that your technologist can determine the right starting position for the scans. Next, the table will move slowly through the machine as the scan is performed. You may be asked to hold your breath for a few seconds during the scan. Movement, including breathing, may cause blurring on the images.

You may see lights and hear low buzzing or whirring sounds during the exam, which is the scanner moving around you. While your technologist will not remain in the room, he or she will be able to hear, see, and speak with you at all times during the scan.

If your child is undergoing a CT scan, you may be allowed to remain in the room with him or her if you wear a lead apron to prevent radiation exposure.

After the exam, you will be asked to wait for a few minutes while your radiologist ensures he or she has enough clear images. Most exams are over within 30 minutes and you can resume your normal daily activities immediately afterward.

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