CT Scan: Computed Tomography

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A CT scan uses X-ray technology to take multiple views of the inside of the body. Compared to regular X-rays, a CT scan can take clearer and more detailed images of organs, bone, soft tissue, blood vessels and other parts of the body.

Some of the primary uses for CT scans include:

  • Looking for bleeding inside the body, especially the in the skull
  • Studying the chest and abdomen
  • Determining the size and location of a tumor
  • Diagnosing skeletal problems
  • Diagnosing blood vessel diseases
  • Planning radiation treatments for cancer
  • Guiding biopsies and other tests
  • Planning surgery
  • Identifying injuries from trauma

CT Coronary Calcium Scoring

This single breath-hold, non-invasive, and fairly inexpensive CT scan can assess the extent of coronary artery calcium. Calcium scoring can help identify atherosclerosis of fatty buildup in the wall of the heart arteries, helping to determine your treatment and risk-reduction plan. 

Candidates include men over 40 and women over 50 with risk factors for heart disease (diabetes, smoking, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, family history of heart disease), but no symptoms. 

Insurance doesn't cover this procedure, which costs $150.00.

Are CT Scans Safe?  

Complications could result from the contrast material used in the study, causing:

  • Allergic reaction 
  • Kidney damage

CT scans do expose you to radiation. Radiation exposure can increase your lifetime risk of cancer. This risk increases with each exposure. Most at risk: Pregnant women and children. 

Getting a CT Scan

Before the test, your doctor will likely ask about:

  • Your medical history
  • Medications you take
  • Allergies
  • Whether you are pregnant or trying to get pregnant

Before your test, follow your doctor’s instructions regarding any changes to your medications or diet.

  • At the healthcare facility:
    • A healthcare professional will explain the test and answer any questions you may have.
    • You will remove your clothes and put on a gown or robe.
    • You will remove all jewelry, hair clips, dentures, and other objects that could show on the x-rays and make the images hard to read.
    • If your CT scan includes oral contrast material, you will need to drink the contrast material at this time.

The CT Scan

You will lay (usually on your back) on a movable bed. The bed will slide into the donut-shaped CT scanner. Depending on the type of scan, an IV line may be placed in your hand or arm. A saline solution and contrast material may be injected into your vein during the test. The technologist will leave the room. You will be given directions using an intercom. The machine will take a series of pictures of the area of your body that is being studied. Your bed may move slightly between pictures.

The test takes about 10-15 minutes, depending on how many pictures are needed. You may feel warm and flushed if contrast material is injected into your vein. Otherwise, you should feel no pain.

After a CT Scan

You will need to wait for the technician to review your images. In some cases, more images will need to be taken. The CT images will be sent to a radiologist who will analyze them. Your doctor will receive the results and discuss them with you.

Signs of a CT Scan Complication 

After the test, call your doctor if you experience signs of an allergic reaction, like:

  • Hives, itching, nausea, swollen or itchy eyes, tight throat or difficulty breathing


Content was created using EBSCO’s Health Library. Edits to original content made by Rector and Visitors of the University of Virginia. This information is not a substitute for professional medical advice.