A CT scan is a type of x-ray. It uses a computer to make pictures of the inside of the body. In this case, images of the body that lie between the chest and hips.
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Reasons for Test
A CT scan is done to look at the organs and tissue in the abdomen. The doctor will look for signs of:
- Other diseases
The doctor may recommend an abdominal CT for symptoms such as:
- Abdominal pain
- Bowel changes or blockages
- Problems passing urine, including bleeding
- Yellowed skin color
- Weight loss
- Unexplained fever
- Abdominal injury
- Fluid buildup in the abdomen
Problems are rare, but all procedures have some risk. The doctor will go over some problems that could happen.
Sometimes a chemical called contrast is used to improve the pictures. Some people can have an allergic reaction or kidney problems caused by the contrast. This is rare.
A CT scan uses radiation. It may not be advised for people with certain conditions such as pregnancy.
Be sure to discuss these risks with the doctor before the test.
What to Expect
Prior to Test
If you are having contrast, the doctor may meet with you to talk about:
- Any allergies you may have
- Current medicines, herbs, and supplements that you take and whether you need to stop taking them before the scan
- Fasting before the scan, such as avoiding food and drink after midnight the night before
Right before the test you will be asked to remove any metal objects. This may include jewelry, hearing aids or dentures.
Description of the Test
If contrast is needed, it may be given in a drink or an injection. Sometimes it is given through the rectum as an enema.
You will be put on a special moving table. The table will move slowly through the CT scanner. You will need to stay still during the entire test. As the scanner takes pictures, you will hear humming and clicking. The technician will ask you to hold your breath at certain times. This will help get a clear picture. You will be able to talk to the technician through a small speaker.
If you had contrast, you may be told to drink extra fluid. This will flush the contrast from your body.
How Long Will It Take?
About 30 minutes
Will It Hurt?
The scan normally should not hurt. Some may find it uncomfortable to stay still during the scan. You may feel flushed if you received contrast. You may notice a salty or metallic taste in your mouth. You may also feel nauseated.
The CT images will be sent to a doctor who looks at images. Your doctor will receive the results and discuss them with you.
Call Your Doctor
Call your doctor if you have:
- Swollen, itchy eyes
- Tightness of throat
- Difficulty breathing
If you think you have an emergency, call for medical help right away.
American Cancer Society
Radiology Info—Radiological Society of North America
Canadian Association of Radiologists
Canadian Radiation Protection Association
Computed tomography (CT)—abdomen and pelvis. Radiology Info—Radiological Society of North America website. Available at: https://www.radiologyinfo.org/en/info.cfm?pg=abdominct. Accessed December 23, 2020.
Ozkok S, Ozkok A. Contrast-induced acute kidney injury: A review of practical points. World J Nephrol. 2017 May 6;6(3):86-99. Accessed December 23, 2020.
Positron emission tomography—computed tomograpy (PET/CT). Radiology Info—Radiological Society of North America website. Available at: https://www.radiologyinfo.org/en/info.cfm?pg=PET. Accessed December 23, 2020.
Prevention of contrast-induced complications. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/prevention/prevention-of-contrast-induced-complications. Accessed December 23, 2020.
Last reviewed February 2020 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Mary-Beth Seymour, RN Last Updated: 12/23/2020