Guide to CT Scans

What is a CT Scan?

A CT scan is a common noninvasive medical imaging scan. CT stands for computerized tomography, and the scan is routinely done to help diagnose different medical conditions. 

The scan involves rotating a conventional x-ray beam in a spiral around the body to take several images from various angles. It stacks the images on top of each other, and the computer technology creates slices or cross-sectional pictures of soft tissue, bones and blood vessels.

In some cases, a CT scan is performed using contrast. The contrast makes certain tissues stand out clearer and creates better images of structures inside the body.

A CT scan can be performed at a hospital or radiology center. If you need assistance finding a location in your area, iRadiologyCare Inc. can help.

What to Expect During a CT Scan   

When you arrive for your appointment, the CT tech will ask you to remove anything metal you may be wearing, such as a watch or jewelry. You may also be asked to change into a gown. The tech may review allergies and medical conditions you have.

If a CT scan is ordered with contrast, it will be given orally, or through an enema. It may also be administered through an IV in your arm.

During the scan, you will lie on a table, which slides in and out of the machine. You may be positioned on your stomach, side or back during the scan. In some instances, pillows or straps may be used to help keep you in place.

As the test is about to start, the tech goes into the scan control room to prepare the machine. But you are still able to talk to the tech through an intercom system. The CT tech will communicate with you and give you instructions, such as when to hold your breath if needed.

How Long Does a CT Scan Take?

The amount of time it takes to complete a CT scan can vary depending on what part of your body is being scanned and whether contrast is ordered. It most cases, the actual scan should only take a few minutes. Your entire appointment should last no longer than an hour.

Why is a CT Scan Done?

A CT scan creates detailed pictures of internal structures. It provides a noninvasive and quick method for your doctor to visualize different organs, such as the kidneys, liver, spleen and aorta.

By visualizing different organs, structure and tissues it helps your doctor diagnosis or monitor a medical condition. For example, a CT scan helps detect fractures, tumors, blood clots and muscle and bone disorders. It can also detect and monitor various conditions including internal bleeding.

A CT scan is useful in various situations from determining injuries due to trauma to detecting cancer. Since a CT scan often provides more detailed information than an x-ray, it allows your doctor to obtain accurate information quickly to determine the needed course of care.

Preparations Required by the Patient

Depending on the type of CT scan you are having and whether or not contrast is ordered, you may be asked to avoid eating or drinking three or four hours before the scan. Your doctor will provide you with specific instructions.


How are an X-ray and CT different? Both tests are X-ray based. But a CT scan utilizes computer technology and a specialized scanner to create three-dimensional views while an x-ray creates two-dimensional views. CT Scans usually provide more detailed information than an x-ray.

Can I have a CT scan if I am pregnant? In general, CT scans are not recommended if you are pregnant. Scanning certain body parts may present more of danger to a developing fetus than others. For example, scans of the pelvis and abdomen expose the fetus to more radiation than a head and neck scan.

Am I exposed to radiation during the scan?

During a CT scan, you are briefly exposed to radiation. The amount of radiation you are exposed to may depend on the length of your scan. In most cases, the diagnostic benefits of having a CT scan outweighs the risk.

Will I feel anything during the CT scan?

A CT scan is painless. If contrast is used, you may have a side effect from the dye, such as a metallic taste in your mouth or a brief sensation of heat shortly after the contrast is administered. 

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