Our Imaging department, Boardwalk Diagnostics, offers CT scans with a referral from a provider. As a patient, knowing as much as possible about a test or procedure can help give you peace of mind. Here’s everything you need to know about CT scans and how our team at Healthcare Associates of Texas and Boardwalk Diagnostics uses this type of imaging study to help make decisions about your health.
What is a CT Scan?
A CT scan is an imaging study that takes a series of X-ray pictures of your body’s internal structures. A computer then reconstructs these images into cross-sectional slices. The person who created the first CT scan described it as a “3D X-ray” because it can provide far more detailed images than a simple X-ray machine. CT scans are painless and non-invasive ways to get a lot of information about your internal body structures.
Contrast dye can better illuminate certain structures during a CT scan. Depending on what your healthcare provider is trying to determine, you may be asked to drink an oral contrast or have a contrast material injected into your vein through an IV.
How Long Does a CT Scan Take?
If you or a loved one are anticipating undergoing a CT scan, the good news is that modern scanners are very fast. In fact, most imaging studies will be completed in just seconds to minutes.
What to Expect During a CT Scan
While preparing for a CT scan, you will be asked a series of questions by the CT technologist to make sure that it is the appropriate test for you. These might include your pregnancy status (which can be determined by a urine sample, if you are unsure), your medications, any history of negative reactions you may have had to contrast dye material in the past, or any allergies you have to iodine or seafood.
After the initial questions, you will be asked to change into a gown and to remove all non-clothing objects such as eyeglasses, dentures, belts, or jewelry, as these items can cast shadows or obscure important body parts during the scan.
A CT scanner is shaped like an inner tube, with a table that can slide in and out of its central hole. During the CT scan, you will lie on the table and be secured with straps, belts, or a head block so that you don’t move accidentally move and create a blurry image. You may hear a bit of noise as the machine whirs around you, and you slide into the center. You will be able to communicate with the CT technologist over the intercom during the scan.
What Does a CT Scan Show?
A CT scan shows cross-sections of the body’s internal structures—imagine making thin slices of a loaf of bread and then evaluating the appearance of each slice. This allows the person reading the CT scan—a medical doctor known as a radiologist—to see very fine details of your anatomy, such as the appearance of bones, blood vessels, and tissues. A CT scan can also show the presence of fluid, air, and foreign bodies.
What Can a CT Scan Diagnose?
A radiologist is very skilled at looking at CT scans and determining whether the body’s structures appear normal or abnormal. CT scans are used to diagnose a variety of conditions, including:
- Abdominal infections (such as appendicitis or diverticulitis)
- Other abdominal conditions (such as a bowel obstruction or tumor)
- Kidney stone
- Problem with the blood vessels, such as aneurysm, dissection, or blood clots
- Certain types of strokes
- Broken bones (more detailed than a typical x-ray)
- Infections of the soft tissues of the facial structures or neck
- Lung infections or collections of fluid or air in the lungs
- Internal bleeding or other injuries from trauma
CT scans can also be used as monitoring tools (to monitor the progress of cancer therapy, for example) or screening tools (to detect the buildup of calcium in the heart’s blood vessels or the presence of masses in a person’s lungs).
Why Would I Need a CT Scan?
If your medical provider suspects you may have a certain medical condition, a CT may be needed to confirm their suspicions and make a definitive diagnosis. CT scans are more likely to be used if your medical provider suspects that your condition may be urgent or emergent, or that it may warrant some sort of intervention, such a surgery.
If your medical provider suspects that you have another medical condition that might not require a CT scan for diagnosis or confirmation, then it is not always a good idea to get the scan because it may subject you to unneeded radiation.
What’s the Difference Between a CT Scan and an MRI?
A CT scan and an MRI scan are both imaging studies that are capable of showing your body’s internal structures in great detail. However, they obtain the images in different ways. A CT scan uses radiation, and an MRI uses a very strong magnet to create images. A CT scan is not as good as an MRI at showing soft tissues (such as muscles, ligaments, tendons, the spinal cord, or the brain), but it is often superior at showing bones, and it can be conducted more quickly.
How Long Do CT Results Take?
CT results are typically available to be read almost immediately. In an emergency (such as in an emergency department), a radiologist can quickly communicate the results of a CT scan to a patient’s treatment team. However, if a CT scan is performed outside the emergency room, it can take 24 hours or more for the scan to be thoroughly read and reported back to your treatment team.
Can You Eat Before a CT Scan?
In general, it is best not to eat before a CT scan. Although certain CT studies (like a study of the lower leg bones) may not be affected by eating or drinking, other types (like an abdominal CT) can be negatively affected if you have had something to eat or drink prior. It is always best to check with your treating provider about whether or not you can eat or drink before your scan, and when in doubt, don’t.
Are CT Scans Safe?
CT scans are very safe, however, they do expose you to a low dose of radiation. Compared to a chest X-ray, for example, a CT of the abdomen and pelvis carries up to 70 times the amount of radiation exposure. While low doses of radiation have not been shown to cause harm (and we are exposed to a certain level of background radiation every day), medical providers do not order CT scans without thinking carefully about their risks and benefits. Sometimes having a CT scan when it is unnecessary (for example, in the case of someone who wants to “screen their body” even though they are not having specific symptoms) is not worth the risk.
The contrast material that is sometimes paired with a CT scan carries additional risks. People who take certain medications (like Metformin) should make sure to mention this to their medical provider prior to a CT scan with contrast, as contrast material can cause damage to the kidneys and certain medications make this more likely. It is also possible to have an allergic reaction to contrast material. If you must have a CT scan but have had a contrast allergy in the past, your medical provider may be able to pre-medicate you to make sure that you can have the test safely.
What Happens Once My CT Results Are Ready?
Once your CT results are ready, your medical provider will review the radiologist’s findings and provide you with the results. You will be able to discuss the CT results with your medical provider and ask follow-up questions. Sometimes a CT scan’s results might lead to further imaging tests, such as an ultrasound or an MRI. In other cases, CT results alone can help guide procedural planning, such as biopsies or surgeries.
How Can I Learn More About CT Scans?
At Healthcare Associates of Texas, CT scans are just one of the important tools in our toolbox when it comes to providing high-quality healthcare to you and your loved ones. To learn more about CT scans, or any of the other types of imaging studies that we have available, please feel free to give us a call.
Boardwalk Diagnostics in Bedford – (972) 258-7465
Boardwalk Diagnostics in Irving – (972) 258-7480