When it comes to medical testing of any kind, the term CT scan is heard quite often – medical terminology that is associated with diagnostic tests but about which most of us have very little information. What is a CT scan? How does it work and why is it included as a part of medical testing?
What is a CT Scan?
CT stands for computerized tomography. During a CT scan, images are taken of the body in much the same way that x-rays are taken. However, a CT scan reveals more information than a traditional x-ray because images can be taken from a variety of angles, providing a cross-sectioned, comprehensive, full picture of the body’s soft tissues and bones. Each piece of the cross-section can be examined individually or combined with the other pieces to create a 3D image of the whole area.
Why a CT Scan?
CT scans are often recommended when a more detailed look at a particular area of the body is required. Doctors use CT scans to examine specific physical “regions” which allows them to detect evidence of a variety of diseases including cancer, as well as diagnose internal injuries or bleeding that may otherwise go undetected. CT scans can also very accurately identify the exact location of a tumor so that treatment can be delivered most effectively.
Undergoing a CT Scan
CT scans are painless and non-invasive, although the procedure does expose you briefly to radiation. A doctor will always take this small risk of exposure into account when determining if a CT scan is appropriate for you. CT scans may be done with or without contrast, which is a dye that – when swallowed or injected – allows for particular areas of the body to be “spotlighted” more clearly.
The procedure itself is often done very quickly. Patients are given a gown to wear and you will be asked to remove your jewelry and any metal objects. You will lie on a small table in a position that most effectively allows for the clearest images to be taken, after which the table itself slides into the scanner. A CT scanner looks like a large ring through which the table slides into the center. The ring itself – the gantry – then rotates around you taking the images that it needs. In most cases, all you will need to do is relax, although sometimes you will be asked to hold your breath for a few short seconds while certain images are taken. The scan technologist working with you will communicate with you from the next room where they will operate the scanner and you will be able to hear them through headphones or a small intercom. They will also be able to hear you.
Once the scan is complete, there is no recovery period required, although if you have undergone a contrast CT scan, you may be asked to increase your fluid intake to help rid your body of the contrast material. Results of a CT scan are read on a computer by a radiologist who then communicates these findings to the prescribing doctor. In the end, a CT scan is an effective, low-risk procedure that can often provide your medical team with the most comprehensive information about your health.