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CT Scan

What is a CT scan?

A CT scan, also called computed tomography or CAT scan, is a special type of X-ray test. X-rays are taken from different angles and a computer puts the X-ray pictures together to create detailed views of the body. CT scans can show bone, muscle, fat, lymph nodes, organs, and blood vessels in detail.

When is it used?

CT scans are used when your healthcare provider needs more information than regular X-rays can show. For example, a CT scan may be used to:

  • Show more details of a specific area of your child’s body
  • Help your healthcare provider guide a needle or catheter into the correct place in the body for a test or treatment
  • Check for swelling or bleeding in the brain after a head injury

How do I prepare my child for this scan?

  • For some CT scans no special preparation is necessary. For others you may have special directions about what your child should eat and drink before the test. Follow any instructions your healthcare provider may give you.
  • Your child may or may not need to take their regular medicines the day of the procedure. For some types of CT scans, some medicines (like aspirin) may increase your child’s risk of bleeding during or after the procedure. Tell your child’s healthcare provider about all medicines and supplements that your child takes. Ask your provider if your child needs to avoid taking any medicine or supplements before the procedure.
  • Tell your provider if your child has had any kidney problems or reactions to iodine-containing foods or chemicals, such as seafood or X-ray contrast dye. Contrast dye, which contains iodine, is used for some CT scans.
  • Your child should wear comfortable clothing that has no metal zippers, buttons, or hooks. Leave watches and jewelry at home.
  • Tell your provider if your child is afraid of enclosed spaces. Your provider may prescribe medicine to help your child relax during the scan.
  • Ask any questions you have before the procedure. You should understand what your healthcare provider is going to do. You have the right to make decisions about your child’s healthcare and to give permission for any tests or procedures.

What happens during the scan?

CT scans can be done in a hospital, an imaging center, or mobile unit.

Your child will lie down on a moving table that will slide into the scanner. The CT scanner is a large machine with a tunnel in the center. Inside the scanner, many X-ray beams are passed very quickly through your child’s body at different angles. Your child will need to stay still during the scan so that the pictures will not be blurry. Images of your child’s body can be seen on a computer screen and prepared for your healthcare provider to examine later.

For some scans, contrast dye may be needed to help show the part of the body being scanned. Contrast dye may be given in different ways. It may be:

  • Injected into a vein
  • Given as a chalky liquid that your child drinks
  • Given into your child’s rectum as an enema

The dye may make your child feel warm. Your child’s face may get flushed, or your child may get a headache or have a salty taste in the mouth. In rare cases, the dye can cause nausea and vomiting.

Depending on what area is being scanned, and whether or not a contrast dye is used, scans may last 15 to 30 minutes or longer. They are painless, but if your child has a hard time staying still, your child may be given medicine to help him relax during the scan.

Because of the small, enclosed space, some children get anxious. It may help to bring a favorite toy or blanket to comfort your child before the scan, or let your child listen to his favorite music during the scan. If your child starts feeling scared during the scan, it may be stopped.

What happens after the scan?

Usually, your child can go home soon after the test. If your child was given medicine to help him relax, your child will be watched carefully until he is fully awake and alert. This may take 15 minutes to 2 hours.

If your child was given dye for the scan, encourage your child to drink lots of fluids after the scan. This helps your child’s body get rid of the dye.

Ask your child’s healthcare provider:

  • How and when you will hear the test results
  • What symptoms or problems you should watch for and what to do if your child has them

What are the risks of this scan?

Every procedure or treatment has risks. Some possible risks of this scan include:

  • The radiation your child gets from a CT scan may cause a small increase in their lifetime risk of developing cancer.
  • In rare cases your child may have an allergic reaction to medicines used during the procedure.

Ask your healthcare provider how these risks apply to your child. Be sure to discuss any other questions or concerns that you may have.

Developed by RelayHealth.
Pediatric Advisor 2015.3 published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2014-01-31
Last reviewed: 2013-12-04
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
Copyright ©1986-2015 McKesson Corporation and/or one of its subsidiaries. All rights reserved.
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