What Is a CT Scan?

what is a CT scan

Everything You Need to Know About CT Scans

CT, CAT, MRI…  The list of alphabetizations in the plethora of medical jargon could go on and on.  Those outside of the professional world most likely hear them most on TV medical dramas, but those scenes never really beg the viewer to question what the term actually means.

It’s important, though, if you’re in a position with your health where you may need testing to understand what kinds of tests may be suggested by your doctors.  Or maybe you’ve already been prescribed a CT scan, and you want a better understanding of what you’re about to undergo. Before you show up for the scan, make sure you know what to expect.

What Exactly is a CT Scan?

CT stands for computerized tomography scan.  This specific medical imaging works to provide a very detailed image for medical professionals.  A series of x-ray images are taken from many different angles.  The computer then processes these pictures to create cross-sectional images of your bones, blood vessels, and soft tissues.

This process provides much more detailed diagnostic imaging than does the plain x-ray.

How are CT Scans Used?

Because of their ability to create detailed computerized images of nearly all parts of the body, CT scans are used to not only diagnose but also to plan medical, surgical, or radiation treatment.

CT scans are used to detect:

  • internal injuries and internal bleeding
  • diseases such as cancer
  • the location of tumors, infection, or fractures

Doctors also use the medical imaging provided by CT scans to monitor the effectiveness of certain treatments and guide procedures like surgeries and biopsies.

How Can I Prepare for a CT Scan?

In some cases, depending on where and how extensive the scan is, you may need to change into a hospital gown.  In cases where this is not necessary, it’s best to wear loose, comfortable clothing.

Leave your jewelry and precious metal items at home!  Metal can interfere with the imaging process of the CT scan, and you’ll be asked to remove them if you bring them.  To keep them safe, it’s recommended to just leave them at home.

Your doctor will recommend this if necessary, but you may need to fast before the process.

What is the CT Scan Actually Like?

Depending on the specific scan, you may have to intake some contrast material.  This is a sort of dye that makes the images of your veins and blood vessels more clear in diagnostic imaging.  It can be provided in one of three ways:

  • Orally – normally, if your stomach or esophagus is being scanned
  • Injection – to help gallbladder, urinary tract, liver, or blood vessels to stand out
  • Enema – to help visualize intestines

CT scanners are large, metal tubes.  You’ll lie on a metal table that is motorized and will be moved into the scanner.  Depending on the location of the scan, you may be provided with straps, pillows, or a head cradle to help keep your body in place during the scan.

The detectors and the x-rays rotate around you in a tube, and they can be loud, creating a buzzing and some clicking noises.

Other Facts and Important Information

There’s not a difference between CT scans and CAT scans; the names are interchangeable.

The FDA says that CT scans provide no benefits to individuals who do not have symptoms.  Health professionals have not endorsed whole-body CT scanning for those who don’t show a real cause, and they should not be used as a method of regular check-up.

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