If you’ve never had a CT or CAT scan, you may be a little nervous. But there is no need to be afraid, as getting a CT scan is a non-invasive and painless procedure. Knowing what to expect during your exam will help you to be prepared and feel at ease.
What Is a CT or CAT Scan?
A CT, or CAT, Scan is short for Computerized Axial Tomography. This type of exam creates cross-sectional images of the body using x-rays. The CT machine has a large donut-shaped piece with a bed that goes inside.
There are many reasons your doctor may order a CT scan. This type of test is commonly used to assess internal damage from car accidents or other traumatic events. The nature of CT Scans allows them to help doctors and surgeons visualize every part of the body, which also makes them useful for pinpointing tumors, blood clots, infections, and many other issues which might negatively affect your health.
Before Your Exam
You may be asked to remove metal objects such as jewelry, belts, and glasses which can interfere with the quality of the images. Unlike an MRI, CT Scans will not necessarily impact or be impacted by the presence of metallic elements in or on your person. However, these elements will show up in the results, so it is advisable to remove as much metal as possible and to disclose any other elements which may interfere with the images resulting from the exam.
Depending on the part of the body being examined or clothing worn, you will be asked to change into an exam gown. Please avoid wearing articles with metallic elements, such as zippers or buttons, as these will be shown in the final image.
Women are asked to disclose pregnancy or potential pregnancy prior to the exam. While CT Scans use low-energy x-rays, it is still a form of radiation, which may be harmful to a developing fetus. If you are or could be pregnant, your doctor may prefer to schedule a different type of exam, such as an MRI or ultrasound, to avoid the risk of harming your baby. Though at the low doses used, no harmful effects from CT Scans have ever been observed in humans.
If you have a history of anxiety or claustrophobia your doctor may prescribe medication to help you relax during your exam. If you are prescribed a sedative medication you’ll want to be sure to bring a friend or family member to drive you home after your appointment.
Your exam may or may not require fasting prior to your arrival. If fasting, or avoiding certain kinds of food and drink are required, your radiologist will let you know.
Any special instructions will be detailed by your radiologist when you schedule your exam.
What Is Contrast?
Some CT scans require contrast, a dye that helps improve the quality of the images. Contrast is given intravenously, as a drink, or as an enema (if the targeted area is your intestines). If your exam requires contrast, you will be notified when you schedule your appointment and you may be asked to fast before your exam.
After contrast is administered, no matter which method, advise any present staff of any unpleasant side-effects, such as lightheadedness, nausea, or itchiness.
Preparing Children for a CT Scan
As with all medical imaging, the subject needs to remain still for the duration to ensure quality images. Headphones or video goggles may be utilized to keep children calm during the procedure. Parents are encouraged to coach their children prior to the procedure to prepare them for holding still for a long period of time. These steps reduce the need for sedatives.
What to Expect During the Exam
If you have not filled out your paperwork prior to your appointment, please plan to arrive at least 15 minutes prior to your appointment time. Be sure to bring your insurance information with you. A technician will review your paperwork and ask any clarifying questions.
You will be brought into the exam room where you will lie down on the bed. The bed will move into the “donut” of the machine. This donut or ring will rotate as the images are being taken. Other than the bed you are lying on, the machine will not touch your body.
Once the exam begins, you will need to stay very still. The technician may ask you to hold your breath for short periods throughout the exam to ensure the best quality images. The exam is painless, though some patients may become uncomfortable from holding still for the exam.
You will hear noises coming from the machine that may sound like clicking, thumping, or chirping. For many types of exams, you will be given headphones with music to help block out the sound of the machine.
The technician will leave the room while the exam takes place, but he or she will be watching through a window and you will be able to hear and talk to each other through an intercom to help you feel at ease.
Depending on the part of the body being imaged, your exam will take as little as a few seconds, while others will take up to half an hour or more.
What to Expect After the CT Scan
After your CT scan, you can return to your normal activities right away if you have not been sedated. If you have taken medication to reduce anxiety during your exam, you should avoid drinking alcohol or operating a vehicle or heavy machinery for several hours.
The images will be sent to your doctor who will interpret them and contact you with the results after a few days.
If a contrast dye was used, you are advised to drink plenty of fluids for the next few days to fully flush your body.
Allergic reactions to the contrast dye used are rare, but if you notice any symptoms, such as rash, hives, or shortness of breath after leaving the clinic, you should seek medical attention right away.
If a follow-up appointment with your doctor or any additional exams is needed, your doctor will let you know. If a follow up is ordered, it is important to schedule it as directed by your doctor.
If you have any questions or concerns before or after your exam, call us and we will be happy to help.