CT Scan


A CT scan (computerized tomography scan) is a tool that doctors use to get a cross-sectional view of soft tissue, blood vessels, bones, and other structures inside your body. CT Scans take a series of x-rays of the body and use computer processing to combine them into the cross-sectional images that doctors use to diagnose conditions and develop treatment plans. CT scans are helpful in diagnosing internal injuries, treatment planning and monitoring, and disease detection. While often performed in hospitals' radiology departments, CT scans are generally outpatient procedures. This means that you can go home on the same day that you receive your scan.

CT Scans are performed with contrast and without contrast. Contrast is a dye used to enhance your imaging and is only needed in specific instances. Check with your referring physician if you're unsure which CT scan is right for you.

CT scans help doctors assess and diagnose abnormalities in soft tissue and bone. CT scans can also detect vascular medical conditions, like coronary heart disease or blood clots.

CT scans also help doctors plan for surgeries, giving them an inside look at the structures on which they intend to operate, as well as facilitating biopsies.

Your doctor may recommend a CT scan to:

  • Detect and diagnose bone and muscle disorders
  • Detect tumors and blood clots
  • Diagnose an internal infection
  • Detect and diagnose certain cancers
  • Monitor conditions such as heart disease, internal organ problems, and masses developing in the body
  • Monitor the progress of cancer treatment
  • Detect internal bleeding

Most CT scans do not require contrast. However, if you are undergoing diagnostic imaging for a condition related to the pelvis, abdomen, or gastrointestinal tract, a contrasting agent may be used. Contrast helps separate the tissue being examined from surrounding tissue.

In general, contrast agents are considered safe for medical use. Some adverse effects have been reported after the use of these substances, which is why they are used infrequently. Before undergoing a CT scan with contrast, talk to your health care provider about factors such as:

  • History of allergic reaction to contrast agents

  • History of allergic reactions to medication, dyes, preservatives, or animals

  • Any medication you may be taking, including herbal supplements

  • Any recent medical conditions or illnesses you have experienced

  • Any pre-existing health conditions you are managing - especially heart disease, diabetes, kidney and liver disease, and sickle cell anemia

Contrast agents are usually given right before the test. The substance may be administered 1 of 3 ways:

- Injection: A contrast agent may be injected intravenously through a needle in your arm to highlight blood vessels, tumors, internal inflammation, and the blood supply to internal organs.

- Oral: For scans of the digestive tract, you may be supplied with a contrast agent that is meant to be taken orally - usually in liquid form.

- Enema: A contrast substance may be inserted into the rectum for scans of the intestines.

After the scan, it is recommended that you drink fluids to assist your kidneys in clearing the contrast agent from your body.

Adverse effects caused by contrast agents are rare.

Common side effects caused by contrast agents include:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Rash/ hives
  • Itchiness
  • Headache

If you experience more severe symptoms such as shortness of breath, wheezing, abnormal heart rhythms, or confusion, talk to your doctor right away. These are symptoms of an allergic reaction and require immediate treatment.

Before you undergo a CT scan with a contrast agent, talk to your health care provider about your medical history, any conditions that you may be managing, the medication you are taking, and any allergic reactions you have experienced. It is especially important that you detail any allergic reactions you may have had caused by medication, dyes, preservatives, or animal products.

Before your CT Scan, you may be asked to take a contrast agent, the substance that clarifies the images the CT Scan produces. Contrast material is painless and often taken by mouth or administered by injection. Sometimes, patients experience a metallic taste in their mouths after ingesting contrast material. But don't worry! It's very common.

During the procedure, you will lie on a motorized table that slides through a circular opening of the scanning machine. A CT scan works by emitting X-ray beams from the CT scanner to capture pictures of the body from multiple angles. Your technologist may ask you to hold still, or even hold your breath, to prevent images from blurring.

Once the procedure is complete you will likely be asked to drink fluids to help flush out the contrast material from your kidneys.

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