Computed tomography (CT) scan is a noninvasive imaging technique that utilizes specialized X-rays that show cross-sectional images of a specific area in the body. When a CT scan is taken, the machine rotates around the body and sends images to a computer, where they can be reviewed by a technician.
What to Expect During a CT Scan
Many CT scan machines are much like MRI machines (LINK TO MRI) in that they are in the shape of a circle with a hollow center where the images are taken. A patient is placed on a moving table that is moved inside of the circle where the images are taken. When this is occurring, the patient is being monitored by a technician in an adjacent room. While the CT scan is occurring, there may be music playing and the room is set up with a microphone that allows you to speak with the technician using a microphone.
When your medical provider orders a CT scan, depending on what part of the body needs to be scanned, contrast material may be used to assist in enhancing the images of the body during the scan. In some instances the contrast material that is used may cause an allergic reaction. If this occurs, providers are standing by to administer medication to treat the reaction.
Prior to the beginning of your CT scan, you may be asked to fast prior to your scan. At the beginning of a CT scan, the machine may create noises as it is preparing to take the images. If you are irritated by this noise, you may be given earplugs to assist with blocking the noise. CT scans can vary between 15 minutes to up to an hour depending on how the images turn out. It is important that during the scan that you do not move and stay as still as you can in order to prevent the images from having to be retaken.
Precautions When Getting a CT Scan
A CT scan is a relatively safe procedure, but you’ll be exposed to ionizing radiation during the test. The amount of radiation that will be used during the scan is higher than the amount that is used for an X-ray. It is important to tell your doctor and technician if you believe that you may be pregnant. If you are pregnant, a different test may be recommended to obtain the images.
If you have any kidney or liver problems, it is important to share this with the physician and the technician as the oral contrast can create a problem with the functions of these organs. And given that children are more sensitive to radiation exposure, a CT scan may be ordered if other tests cannot assist in confirming a diagnosis.