What is a CT scan? Also called a computed tomography scan, it is a test that uses X-rays to make cross sectional images throughout your body, then puts them together through a computer program to create a detailed image of the structures inside of your body cavities.
Computed tomography scan can be used to take images from all parts of your body, and the CT scan can reveal detailed pictures of your organs, blood vessels, bones, and your spinal cord.
Sometimes, a contrast dye is injected into one of your blood veins, or the contrast material may be placed in a body cavity that opens to the outside, like your rectum, to help enhance and improve the quality of image and information that can be derived from the scan.
Unlike X-rays, which mainly show pictures of bones and faint outline of soft tissues like muscles and bowels, a Ct scan shows more detail and can be used to visualize both soft tissues and bones.
Many times, your doctor may need a picture that is more detailed than the pictures taken by an X-ray machine or an ultrasound.
The CT scan can be used to study details in the heart, esophagus, lungs, and major blood vessels in the chest and abdomen, which include the aorta, your largest blood vessel.
A CT scan of your abdomen may find:
A CT scan of the urinary tract is called a CT urogram, and the doctor can look for
In this type of CT, contrast dye is injected so photographs can be taken as the contrast travels through the urinary tract system.
If you seem to be having liver problems, they can often be diagnosed by CT scan, which can find
Sometimes, the CT scan can find the cause of jaundice, a yellow color to your skin and to the whites of your eyes.
The digestive organ called the pancreas is near the liver, and your doctor may see tumors or inflammation of the pancreas.
Your spleen may be injured in an accident, so your doctor will use a CT scan to find causes of bleeding. In some diseases the spleen may be very large and your doctor can determine its size.
If you have a tumor on your adrenal glands, or if they are enlarged, the doctor can take a look and measure them.
A CT scan of the pelvis examines the organs in the pelvis, including
Problems with the musculoskeletal system can be identified using CT scans, including fractures or even growth problems and tumors.
If you have a biopsy of a tumor or piece of tissue inside your body, the doctor can guide the biopsy needle using the images from the CT scan. If you have a pocket of infection known as an abscess, it will have to be drained, and your doctor can do this with a needle guided by a CT.
If you have cancer, you may have CT scans periodically to see if the tumor has spread.
The CT scan is normally done by a special doctor who reads radiographic studies, called a radiologist.
Other doctors may know how to read a CT scan, but a radiologist is specially trained, and may not miss something another doctor might now see, because radiologists have much more experience with reading a CT scan.
The X-ray table is attached to the CT scanner, and you will lie down on the stable before it moves into the opening of the CT scanner, which is shaped like a tube.
The table moves through the CT scanner as pictures are taken of slices of your body, and then they are reconstructed by the computer to make a picture of the entire body.
Because of radiation, the technician may sit in a booth behind glass, but she or he will be able to see you and talk to you during the test.
The test may take a total of 30 minutes to one hour, but some of that time is spent getting you situated.
Though CT scanners are getting better every year in terms of the amount of radiation they emit when taking pictures of your body, you still need to be aware of the risk and prepare before having a scan.
If you are having a CT scan of your abdomen, tell your doctor so he can decide whether or not to give you a laxative, and your doctor also may ask you to stop eating solid food the night before the test.
You may have a prescription for a laxative, or you may have to give yourself an enema from an enema kit. Finally, you may have to drink a lot of contrast fluid the night before the test.
CT scan, like most other medical procedures or tests comes with some risk.
The greatest risk with a CT scan is that of a relatively high amount of radiation it emits into your body. To illustrate, taking a single x-ray of your chest is like being exposed to radiation from the atmosphere when you take a plane from London to Madrid.
A CT scan of your chest on the other hand, is like been exposed to 400 times the radiation you get with one single X-rays of your chest, or traveling 400 times from London to Madrid.
The good news is that, having a CT scan a few times in your lifetime should not amount to anything significant.
The X-ray table is attached to the CT scanner, and you will lie down
on the stable before it moves into the opening of the CT scanner, which
is shaped like a tube. The table moves through the CT scanner as
pictures are taken of slices of your body, and then they are
reconstructed by the computer to make a picture of the entire body.
Because of radiation, the technician may sit in a booth behind glass,
but she or he will be able to see you and talk to you during the test.
Another risk of a CT scan could comes from the dye they use, if you are having a dye test with your CT scan.
If you have not had a sedative, you can probably go right home.
You should probably drink a lot of fluid to get rid of the radiation in the contrast material.
You may begin to eat normal solid food.
Your doctor may look at the CT exam before he talks to you that day, or he may wait for a complete reading from the radiologist, which may take one or two days. He will call you and let you know if the test is normal or abnormal.
If the test is abnormal, you may need extra tests to confirm a diagnosis, or you may need treatment for any disease that is present on the images.