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CT Scan of the Head

(Head CT)

Definition

A CT scan uses a x-rays and special computers to make pictures of the inside of the body. In this case, the images are of the head.

CT Scan of the Head

Breast self-exam, step 5
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Reasons for Test    TOP

A CT scan is done to study your skull, brain, jaw, sinuses, and facial bones. It will look for signs of injuries, tumors, infections, or other diseases.

Your doctor may recommend a head CT if you have any of the following symptoms:

  • Headache
  • Seizures
  • Head injury or injury to the face or eyes
  • Dizziness or problems with balance
  • Confusion
  • Behavior or personality change
  • Chronic nasal congestion
  • Swelling in the face, head, or neck
  • Double vision

Possible Complications    TOP

A chemical called contrast may be used to help improve the pictures. Some people can have an allergic reaction or develop kidney problems with contrast material. However, bad reactions are rare. Your doctor will review a list of possible complications of a CT scan with contrast.

A CT scan does use radiation. You and your doctor will weigh the harms and benefits of this test. A CT scan may not be advised if you are pregnant.

Be sure to discuss these risks with your doctor before the test.

What to Expect    TOP

Prior to Test

Your doctor may ask you to:

  • Avoid eating or drinking anything for four hours before the test if contrast will be used.
  • Remove any metal objects, such as jewelry, hearing aids, or dentures.

Description of the Test

If contrast is needed, it will be injected into a vein.

You will be positioned on a special moving table. The table will move slowly through the CT scanner. You will need to stay still during the entire test. The technician may need to use a device to keep your head still. As the scanner takes pictures, you will hear humming and clicking. You will be able to talk to the technician through an intercom.

After Test    TOP

If you had contrast, you may be asked to drink extra fluid. This will flush the contrast from your body.

How Long Will It Take?    TOP

About 10 minutes

Will It Hurt?    TOP

You may feel flushed if you are given contrast. You may also notice a salty or metallic taste in your mouth and feel nauseated.

Results    TOP

The CT images will be sent to a radiologist for analysis. Your doctor will receive the results and discuss them with you.

Call Your Doctor    TOP

If you were given contrast, call your doctor if any of the following occurs after the test:

  • Hives
  • Itching
  • Nausea
  • Swollen, itchy eyes
  • Tightness of throat
  • Difficulty breathing

In case of an emergency, call for medical help right away.

RESOURCES:

American Cancer Society
http://www.cancer.org/
Radiological Society of North America
http://www.radiologyinfo.org

CANADIAN RESOURCES:

Canadian Association of Radiologists
http://www.car.ca/
Canadian Radiation Protection Association
http://www.crpa-acrp.org/

References:

Brenner DJ. Should we be concerned about the rapid increase in CT usage? Rev Environ Health . 2010;25(1):63-68.
Computed tomography (CT)—Head. Radiological Society of North America Radiology Info website. Available at: http://www.radiologyinfo.org/en/info.cfm?pg=headct . Updated March 7, 2013. Accessed March 28, 2013.
Positron Emission Tomography - Computed Tomograpy (PET/CT). Radiology Info.org website. Available at: http://www.radiologyinfo.org/en/info.cfm?pg=PET . Updated April 24, 2012. Accessed March 28, 2013.
Last reviewed February 2014 by Michael Woods, MD
Last Updated: 6/24/2013