CT Scans and Diagnostic ImagingFind a Location
What is a CT (computed tomography) exam?CT scanning combines advanced computers and rotating X-rays to create highly detailed cross-sectional computer-generated images of all types of tissue to detect different disease processes. CT is one of the fastest and most accurate tools for examining the head, chest, abdomen, and pelvis.
The exam is fast, non-invasive, and has the unique ability to detect and diagnose a wide variety of medical conditions and abnormalities. Some of those include infection, inflammation, stroke, obstructions, trauma, kidney stones, and early detection of tumors.
What are some common uses of CT scans?
- Performed on patients with symptoms such as chest or abdominal pain or difficulty breathing.
- Used for detecting many different cancers, such as lymphoma and cancers of the lung, liver, kidney, ovary and pancreas. A CT image allows physicians to confirm the presence of a tumor, measure its size, identify its precise location, and determine the extent of its involvement with other nearby tissue.
- Plays a significant role in the detection, diagnosis, and treatment of vascular diseases that can lead to stroke, kidney failure, or even death. CT is commonly used to assess for pulmonary embolism (a blood clot in the lung vessels) as well as aortic aneurysms.
- Vital to diagnosing and treating spinal problems and injuries of the hands, feet, and other skeletal structures. This is due to the clear detection of small bones as well as surrounding tissues like muscle and blood vessels.
What can I expect during a CT exam?
If your examination is of the abdomen or pelvis, you may be asked to drink oral contrast one hour prior to your appointment. Patients have the option to pick up the oral contrast and instructions before their appointment and begin drinking at home/work. Patients must arrive 15 minutes prior to their scheduled exam. Pick-up is available Monday-Friday until 4:30 pm. Patients who do not pick-up the oral contrast in advance must arrive one hour prior to their scheduled exam to drink the oral contrast.
If your examination requires intravenous injection of contrast, one of our care team members will discuss the details with you at the time of your visit.
Who interprets the results and how do I get them?A board certified radiologist* with expertise in supervising and interpreting radiology examinations will analyze the images and send an official report to your primary care physician or the specialist who referred you for the exam. Once they have reviewed the report and the radiologists opinions, they will discuss the results with you.
What if I am claustrophobic?Because the CT scan is open at both ends (like a doughnut), most claustrophobic patients have little difficulty with the procedure. If you are severely claustrophobic, your doctor may prescribe a mild sedative to take prior to the scan.
What are the benefits of a CT scan?
- CT scanning is painless, noninvasive, and highly accurate.
- A major advantage of CT is its ability to depict bone, soft tissue, and blood vessels all in one session.
- Unlike conventional X-rays, CT scanning provides very detailed images of many types of tissue as well as the lungs, bones, and blood vessels.
- CT examinations can be fast and simple, in emergency or trauma cases, they can reveal internal injuries and bleeding quickly enough to help save lives.
- CT is less sensitive to patient movement than an MRI.
- CT can be performed if you have an implanted medical device of any kind, unlike MRI.
- A diagnosis determined by CT scanning may eliminate the need for exploratory surgery and surgical biopsy.
- No radiation remains in a patient's body after a CT examination.
- X-rays used in CT scans should have no immediate side effects.
Are there potential risks?
- There is no conclusive evidence that radiation at small amounts delivered by a CT scan causes cancer.
- Large population studies have shown a slight increase in cancer from much larger amounts of radiation, such as from radiation therapy.
- We are exposed to radiation from natural sources all the time. The average person in the U.S. receives an effective dose of about 3 mSv per year from naturally occurring radioactive materials and cosmic radiation from outer space. These natural "background" doses vary throughout the country.
- When a CT scan is recommended by your doctor, the expected benefit of this test outweighs the potential risk from radiation.
- You are encouraged to discuss the risks versus the benefits of your CT scan with your doctor and to explore whether alternative imaging tests may be available to diagnose your condition.
- Women should inform their physician and X-ray or CT technologist if there is any possibility that they are pregnant.
- The risk of serious allergic reaction to injectable intravenous (IV) contrast that contains iodine is extremely rare, and radiology departments are well-equipped to deal with them.
- Patients with impaired kidney function should be given special consideration before receiving iodine-based contrast materials. Such patients are at risk for developing contrast-induced nephropathy, in which the pre-existing kidney damage may be worsened.