CT Scan (General)
(Computed Tomography Scan; Computed Axial Tomography; CAT Scan)
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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Reasons for test ^
Some of the primary uses for CT scans include:
- Looking for bleeding inside the body, especially in the skull.
- Studying the chest and abdomen
- Determining the size and location of a tumor
- Diagnosing skeletal problems
- Diagnosing blood vessel diseases
- Planning radiation treatments for cancer
- Guiding biopsies and other tests
- Planning surgery
- Identifying injuries from trauma
Possible Complications ^
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:
- Allergic reaction to contrast material
- Damage to the kidney from contrast material
Factors that may increase the risk of complications include:
- Allergies (if you are given a contrast dye during the test)
- Kidney problems (if you are given a contrast dye during the test)
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 advised for pregnant women.
Be sure to discuss these risks with your doctor before the test.
What to Expect ^
Prior to Test
Before the test, your doctor will likely ask about:
- Your medical history
- Medications you take
- Whether you are pregnant or trying to get pregnant
- Before your test, follow your doctor’s instructions regarding any changes to your medications or diet.
At the healthcare facility:
- A healthcare professional will explain the test and answer any questions you may have.
- You will remove your clothes and put on a gown or robe.
- You will remove all jewelry, hair clips, dentures, and other objects that could show on the x-rays and make the images hard to read.
- If your CT scan includes oral contrast material, you will need to drink the contrast material at this time.
Description of 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.
How Long Will It Take?
About 10-15 minutes, depending on how many pictures are needed.
Will It Hurt?
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 March 14, 2016.
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 August 7, 2014. Accessed March 14, 2016.
Last reviewed March 2016 by Marcie L. Sidman, MD Last Updated: 3/18/2013