Computed Tomography (CT) Scan
A Computed Tomography (CT) scan - also known as CAT scan - allows healthcare providers at Memorial Hermann to find abnormalities in your head and body, from your body's fat and muscles to blood vessels and organs. Using X-ray technology in combination with computer processing, this scan is often used to help diagnose illness, assess injuries, evaluate treatment plans or help with surgical procedures, including after trauma-causing incidents.
What Should I Expect During a CT Scan?
CT scans are generally painless, non-invasive tests that allow your doctor to see inside the body to assess injuries or diagnose illnesses.
During the scan, individual images of your body are taken in horizontal segments. These images, much like pieces of a puzzle, fit together to give your doctor a comprehensive, 360-degree view of the scanned area.
Once the CT scan is complete, the results will be stored electronically and sent to a radiologist, who will report his or her interpretation of the results to your doctor. Your doctor can tell you approximately how long it will take to get the results.
How Long Does a CT Scan Take?
Most CT scans last about 15 minutes, but may take more time if you need to remove any metal objects or if a contrast dye solution is required. During the procedure, you will lie on a table that will then slowly move into a tunnel where a scanner will rotate around your body to generate images. It is normal to hear buzzing or whirring noises during this time. You will be able to communicate with a technician via an intercom. He or she may request that on occasion you hold your breath in order to produce the clearest images possible.
No downtime is involved with the procedure, but you should ask your doctor if you will be given a medication that causes drowsiness. If so, you may need to arrange a ride home beforehand.
If you’re given a contrast dye, you’ll need to drink plenty of water or other fluids to flush it from your body.
What You Should Know Before You Have a CT Scan
CT scans are a quick, pain-free imaging option, and typically, little to no prep is required on your end. Depending on what area your doctor needs to scan, you may not be able to eat or drink for several hours before the procedure. Your doctor will instruct you on any pre-scan guidelines to follow.
If your child is the patient, your doctor will provide you with the information necessary to prepare for the scan. Your child may need to be sedated to avoid movement during scanning. Even the slightest motion can cause the CT image to blur, which could affect the results.
Benefits of a CT Scan
The benefits of CT technology far outweigh the minimal risks, and the speed and accuracy of the scans can allow medical teams to quickly assess injuries or conditions and determine necessary treatments or potentially lifesaving measures.
In certain cases, a CT scan is more affordable than other more-advanced imaging modalities, making it a budget-friendly choice for uncovering the cause of an illness.
Uses of CT Imaging
CT scans are prescribed for:
- Detecting internal bleeding or muscle and bone disorders, such as bone tumors and fractures
- Identifying the location of an infection or blood clot
- Diagnosing and monitoring conditions such as cancer, heart disease, liver masses, and lung nodules
Types of Computerized Tomography Machines at Memorial Hermann
Many different types of machines are used to conduct Ct scans. Memorial Hermann uses advanced and customizable computed tomography machines to help achieve a higher level of accuracy in diagnosis.
In general, a 32-slice scanner is faster than its 16-slice counterpart. This scanner provides our medical staff with a comprehensive view when examining the complex structure of the inner ear, or when searching for bone fractures or exploring veins.
The 64-slice scanner is often used in facilities dealing with trauma, cardiac issues or a high volume of patients. These fast-moving machines are ideal for critical-care settings in which treatment time can mean the difference between life and death.
Types of CT Scans
An intracranial scan can be used to find these abnormalities:
- Blood clots
- Fluid buildup
- Signs of stroke
This type of scan may be recommended if you have frequent headaches, symptoms of neurological issues or other complaints related to the brain or head. Your doctor will use the results of this scan to rule out a range of health issues and help formulate a diagnosis.
Abdominal CT Scan
he abdomen contains organs that allow several of the body's systems to function. Your doctor may scan this area for blockages, infection, tumors and other issues, especially after X-rays show something out of the ordinary.
Abdominal CT scans are also used to guide healthcare providers during biopsies or other procedures requiring tissue removal, or to determine if tumor treatment has been successful.
Cardiac CT Scan
A rapidly advancing technology in the noninvasive evaluation of heart disease, cardiac CT provides X-ray-based information on the structure and function of the heart and its vessels. Similar to cMRI, the patient is placed into a large “doughnut” that contains multiple X-ray transmitters. These transmitters rotate extremely fast around the body inside the doughnut and can acquire all required images within seconds.
This scan provides your doctor with a complete view of your heart and blood vessels. At Memorial Hermann, we use a calcium-scoring CT scan to look for coronary artery calcium buildup.
We also offer a coronary computed tomography angiography (or coronary CTA) during which we dilate the blood vessels and highlight the coronary arteries via contrast IV. Doing so helps us to look for abnormalities that might indicate heart disease, or blockages or other issues that can lead to a heart attack.
Cardiac CT scans can also help track the progress of coronary artery bypass grafting or provide more detail after a cardiac X-ray has shown abnormal results.
CT vs PET Scan
CT and PET scans are two types of tomography that perform similar functions, both searching for abnormalities within the body. However, PET scans use both CT technology and nuclear medicine testing to find evidence of cancer cell activity.
A PET scan tends to cost more than a CT scan and can be difficult to get approved by insurance providers. It is also more time-consuming, taking anywhere from two to four hours. Your doctor will determine which one is right for you.
Side Effects and Health Risks of CT Scans
CT scans are similar to other X-ray imaging exams and expose you to a small, targeted amount of ionizing radiation for a short time, creating an image of the structures inside your body. Because CT scans provide more defined images of your body tissues, they allow your doctor to detect and diagnose numerous ailments. As with any imaging exam, they should only be performed to provide a direct medical benefit.
In certain situations, a contrast dye will be used to help doctors see a specific area more clearly. This occurs most often with gastrointestinal imaging or in conjunction with cancer treatment and diagnosis. This dye is taken orally or injected into the veins. A very small percentage of patients are allergic to iodine and may become nauseous from the contrast dye.
Keeping your doctor informed can help limit or prevent side effects from CT scans. Let your healthcare provider know if you’ve had problems with contrast dye in the past or if you are diabetic and taking Metformin® (Glucophage).
It's also important to let your doctor know if you are breastfeeding or if you may be pregnant. If your scan is not urgent, your doctor may elect to postpone the procedure until after your baby is born or take added precautions to protect your unborn child during the scanning process.
Accurate, Professional Computed Tomography at Memorial Hermann
CT scans help doctors at nearly every stage of health care. From aiding in diagnosis to assisting in treatments, this lifesaving technology is a high-tech weapon in a provider's arsenal. Whether you're suffering from head and neck pain, experiencing issues in your abdomen, or your doctor has requested further investigation after abnormalities appeared in an X-ray, CT scans offer a vital clue to how well your body is functioning.
Memorial Hermann is proud to offer our patients the advanced technology provided by Multi-Slice CT scanners. Our commitment to invest in the latest imaging technologies along with a dedicated medical staff have helped us provide quality health care for more than a century.
Find a location near you, or schedule your CT scan now by calling (877) 704-8700 or contacting us today.
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