Questions People Ask About CT Scans

A computed tomography scan, more frequently referred to as CT Scan, is a diagnostic test that allows doctors to see inside your body. A CT scan uses a combination of X-rays and a computer to create pictures of your organs, bones, and other tissues. Many patients are asked to go for CT scans because it provides the doctors with more details of what is happening inside the body than a regular ultrasound scan or normal  X-ray.

CT scan images appear in a 2-dimensional form and are frequently used to evaluate the brain, neck, spine, chest, abdomen, pelvis, and sinuses. Machine scanners used to perform CT scans are now more widely available all around the world. Many of the big hospitals have the machines and they are also places outside the hospitals where you may be referred to do a CT-Scan. However, prices for the scan may vary from place to place.

Why Will My Doctor Send Me For a CT Scan?

There are many reasons why your doctor might ask you to go for a CT scan, but the fundamental reason is for diagnosing diseases and evaluating injuries you have. The comprehensive images produced through CT imaging techniques helps your doctor to :

  1. Diagnose infections, muscle disorders, and bone fractures.
  2. Pinpoint the location of masses and tumors (including cancer).
  3. Study the blood vessels and other internal structures.
  4. Assess the extent of internal injuries and internal bleeding.
  5. Guide procedures, such as surgeries and biopsies.
  6. Monitor the effectiveness of treatments for certain medical conditions, including cancer and heart disease.

How Many Types Are There?

CT scans have revolutionized medicine because it allows doctors to see diseases that, in the past, could often only be found at surgery or at autopsy. They provide a highly detailed look at your entire body or different parts of the body and doctors also use CT scans to further evaluate an abnormality seen on another test such as an X-ray or an ultrasound. In addition, they are also used to check for specific symptoms such as pain or dizziness and evaluate the spread of cancer.

A patient may be asked to do :

  • A full body CT scan used to look at and evaluate the entire body for various reasons.
  • A head or brain CT scan to evaluate the various structures of the brain and look for a mass, stroke, area of bleeding, or blood vessel abnormality. It is also sometimes used to look at the skull.
  • A neck CT scan to study a lump or mass in the neck or to look for enlarged lymph nodes or glands.
  • A chest CT scan to further study an abnormality on a plain chest X-ray. It is also often used to look for enlarged lymph nodes.
  • An Abdominal and pelvic CT scan  to evaluate abdominal and pelvic organs (such as the liver, spleen, kidneys, pancreas, and adrenal glands) and the gastrointestinal tract. These studies are often ordered to check for a cause of pain and sometimes to follow up on an abnormality seen on another test such as an ultrasound.
  • A sinus CT scan used to both diagnose sinus disease and to detect a narrowing or obstruction in the sinus drainage pathway.
  • A spinal or bone CT scan most commonly used to detect a herniated disc or narrowing of the spinal canal (spinal stenosis) and in people with neck, arm, back, and/or leg pain. It is also used to detect a fracture or break in the spine and other bones.

What is the Process Like?

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CT scans are mostly conducted at a hospital or radiology clinic. The process is noninvasive, safe, and well-tolerated. Depending on the type of scan, you may be told not to eat or drink for a few hours before the procedure and you may also need to wear a hospital gown and remove any metal objects, such as jewelry during the process.

CT scans are performed trained radiology technologists. They will explain the process to you and guide you on what needs to be done. During the test, you’ll lie on a table inside a large, doughnut-shaped CT machine. The table slowly moves through the scanner as the X-rays from the machine rotate around your body to produce the images which is displayed on a computer screen. It is normal for you to hear a whirring or buzzing noise as you slide through the machine on the table. Any movement you make can blur the image produced, hence you will be asked to stay very still. You may also be asked to hold your breath in some cases.

The whole process should take between a few minutes to half an hour, depending on the parts of your body being evaluated. After the scan is complete, you can go home almost immediately, or be returned to the hospital ward if you were on admission before coming for the scan.

CT scans use a narrow X-ray beam that circles around one part of your body. This provides a series of images from many different angles. A computer uses this information to create a cross-sectional picture. Like one piece in a loaf of bread, this two-dimensional (2D) scan shows a “slice” of the inside of your body. This process is repeated to produce a number of slices. The computer stacks these scans one on top of the other to create a detailed image of your organs, bones, or blood vessels.

Should I be Worried About Any Risks or Side Effects?

CT scans are safe and do not pose any great risk in itself. However, there are some studies that show a some minimal risks in patients who have multiple CT scans are frequently exposed to the radiation.

Abdominal or pelvic CT scans may be pose some risks to a pregnancy, therefore you should let your doctor know if you are pregnant. You will most likely be asked to go for an abdominal or pelvic ultrasound scan instead which does not expose your baby to X-rays.

The settings of the CT machine may need to adjusted during CT scans for children. This is to reduce the amount of the ionizing radiation which may expose children to some health risks. In addition, some people may be allergic to the contrast materials used during a CT scan. They may complain of itchiness or a rash on the skin, which may be mild or severe. You will be asked for any allergies and monitored for any allergic reaction which may result from the scan.

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