Understanding Computerized Tomography (CT) Scans
Computerized Tomography (CT) Scans use rotating X-rays to obtain cross-sectional images of the bones and soft tissues inside your body. Each picture, or slice, displays only a few layers of body tissue at a time, but can be combined on a computer to produce three-dimensional representations of your bones and tissues.
Because of the speed in which a CT scan can produce detailed pictures of most areas of the body, it is a preferred imaging method to examine people who have internal injuries from accidents and trauma. When used with an injected contrast material, CT scans are especially helpful in looking at the internal organs such as the brain, the heart, blood vessels, kidneys, lungs, and intestines. It can be used to guide biopsies and to identify masses and tumors, such as cancer.
During a CT scan, you are briefly exposed to much more radiation than you would encounter during a regular X-ray. Although the exposure can potentially raise the risk of cancer, doctors and scientists believe the careful use of CT scans provides valuable information that outweighs the potential risks.
WellStar Resources & Support
WellStar offers CT scans at all of its imaging centers including The WellStar Cobb Imaging Center, The Kennestone Women’s Imaging Center, WellStar Kennestone Imaging Center in East Cobb, WellStar Kennestone Imaging Center at Towne Lake, WellStar Douglas Hospital,WellStar Paulding Hospital and WellStar Windy Hill Hospital.
WellStar Health System employs an extensive staff of highly trained imaging professionals and uses technologically advanced CT scanners, ensuring faster examination times, reduced radiation levels, and higher resolution scans which may be more sensitive to disease and less prone to artifacts.
CT Scan Procedure
Before the Procedure
Your preparations for a CT scan depend on which part of your body is being scanned. In all cases, you should inform your WellStar physician or radiologist if you believe you might be pregnant, are breastfeeding, have allergies or kidney problems.
You should also inform your doctor if you have any implanted medical devices or artificial joints. If you have issues with claustrophobia, you may want to ask your doctor to prescribe a mild sedative prior to the examination.
Many CT scans require IV contrast. If you are having such an exam and you are taking Metformin-Glucophage®, Glucovance®, Metaglip®, Avandamet® or generics of these medications, you will need to discontinue them at the time of the test. You should refrain from using these medications for 48 hours after the exam and resume them only after your physician has evaluated your renal function and determined it to be normal.
If your test requires an oral contrast, you will need to pick it up at any WellStar imaging center.
For the examination itself, you should wear loose, comfortable clothing and avoid garments that have zippers, clasps, belts or any other metal fasteners.
You will likely be asked to remove any jewelry, wallets, dentures, eyeglasses or anything that might interfere with the X-rays of the CT scan.
Some tests require their own specific preparations. Instructions for specific tests include:
- Any test with IV Iodinated Contrast (X-ray dye): If you are to receive IV contrast, you must refrain from eating or drinking for at least four hours prior to your test. You may take some medications with a small amount of water, if necessary. The IV contrast will be injected through a vein.
- Abdomen/Abdomen and Pelvis: These exams require an IV contrast as well as an oral contrast.
- Abdomen/Pelvis for Kidney/Renal Stones: This exam requires no prep, and you will not receive an IV contrast or oral contrast.
- Abdomen for pancreatic evaluation: This exam requires IV contrast. You will be asked at the imaging center to drink 750cc of water before the exam starts.
- Chest/Thorax: This exam generally requires no prep but sometimes may be ordered with an IV contrast.
- Spine (Cervicial/Thoracic/Lumbar)/Extremities: This exam generally requires no prep, but sometimes may be ordered with an IV contrast.
- Head/Sinuses/Facial Bones/Temporal Bones: This exam generally requires no prep but sometimes may be ordered with an IV contrast.
- Soft Tissue Neck: This exam is usually ordered with IV contrast.
- CT Angiography or Cardiac CTA: This exam involves the injection of a contrast to show blood flow through your body’s arteries, including the vessels of the heart.
During the Procedure
Most CT scans conducted at a WellStar imaging center are outpatient, and all are painless procedures that should take only a few minutes after preparation.
When you arrive, a WellStar technologist will ask you to fill out a medical history form. Before the test, the technologist will review your history with you and explain details and answer questions about your specific test. You may be asked to change into a gown to ensure there is no metal on your clothing.
If your exam has been ordered with an IV contrast or oral contrast, it will be administered before the exam. Some patients experience a slight burning sensation, a metallic taste in the mouth and a warm flush across the body because of the contrast. These sensations are normal and usually dissipate after a few moments.
For the examination itself, you will lie down on a narrow table that may be equipped with straps, pillows and a headrest to ensure that you do not move during the examination.
The table then slides into the CT scanner through the gantry, a doughnut-like opening.
As the X-ray tube rotates around your body, the table slowly moves through the gantry.
You will not hear or feel the X-rays, but there may be loud humming, buzzing and clicking sounds from inside the machine during the procedure.
You need to remain as still as possible because movement can blur the images. Throughout the procedure, you will be able to talk to the technologist in case you need help or feel uncomfortable.
When the exam is finished, you are taken out of the machine, and the intravenous line is removed.
After the Procedure
Once you have completed a CT scan, you may resume most of your normal, everyday activities. There should be no recovery time unless you needed sedation or a contrast for the exam. In that case, you may be asked to remain a short time after the exam to ensure you feel well. If you received IV contrast, you will likely be instructed to drink lots of fluid to help your kidneys remove the contrast material from your body.