A CT scan uses x-ray technology to take multiple views of the inside of the body. Compared to regular x-rays, a CT scan can take clearer and more detailed images of organs, bone, soft tissue, blood vessels, and other parts of the body.
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Some of the primary uses for CT scans include:
Complications are rare, but no procedure is completely free of risk. If you are planning to have a CT scan, your doctor will review a list of possible complications. These may include:
Factors that may increase the risk of complications include:
You are exposed to some radiation during a CT scan. Radiation exposure can increase your lifetime risk of cancer. This risk increases the more times you are exposed to radiation. Radiation exposure is more concerning for pregnant women and children. CT scans are usually not recommended for pregnant women.
Be sure to discuss these risks with your doctor before the test.
You will lie (usually on your back) on a movable bed. The bed will slide into the donut-shaped CT scanner. Depending on the type of scan, an IV line may be placed in your hand or arm. A saline solution and contrast material may be injected into your vein during the test. The technologist will leave the room. You will be given directions using an intercom. The machine will take a series of pictures of the area of your body that is being studied. Your bed may move slightly between pictures.
You will need to wait for the technician to review your images. In some cases, more images will need to be taken.
About 10-15 minutes, depending on how many pictures are needed.
You may feel warm and flushed if contrast material is injected into your vein. Otherwise, you should feel no pain.
The CT images will be sent to a radiologist who will analyze them. Your doctor will receive the results and discuss them with you.
Radiological Society of North America
US Food and Drug Administration
Canadian Association of Radiologists
Canadian Radiation Protection Association
Computed tomography (CT)—body. Radiological Society of North America website. Available at: http://www.radiologyinfo.org/en/info.cfm?pg=bodyct&bhcp=1. Updated September 23, 2014. Accessed January 26, 2015.
Radiation-emitting products: computed tomography (CT). US Food and Drug Administration website. Available at: http://www.fda.gov/Radiation-EmittingProducts/RadiationEmittingProductsandProcedures/MedicalImaging/MedicalX-Rays/ucm115317.htm. Updated January 23, 2014. Accessed January 26, 2015.
Last reviewed January 2015 by Michael Woods, MD Last Updated: 3/18/2013