Why Are CT Scans So Important and How Do They Work?

CT Scans

A CT scan is a painless and non-invasive technology that enables doctors to check what’s going on inside your body. Read this article to get to know basic information about computed tomography.

Computed tomography is a painless and non-invasive procedure that allows medical professionals to check what’s going on inside any part of your body. This method uses ionizing radiation and delivers more detailed images than conventional X-rays. From this article, you’ll get to know what exactly happens during a CT scan and why you might need this type of exam. Plus, you’ll learn about the potential risks and side effects of computed tomography.

How Does a CT Scan Work and What Happens During the Test?

To have the test, you’ll need to come to a radiology clinic or a hospital. You might be required to avoid eating and drinking a few hours before the scan. In addition, you might need to change to a gown and remove jewelry and other metal objects from your body.

During the test, you’ll be lying on a table inside a large, doughnut-shaped CT machine. An X-ray beam will be circling around one part of your body, creating a series of images from many different angles. These images will be transferred to a computer that will compile a cross-sectional picture. With its help, the medical professional will be able to examine a slice of the inside of your body. You can observe multiple slices during a scan.

The doctor will ask you to lie still because movement might blur the image. Also, you might be required to hold your breath at times. The scanner will be producing a buzzing or whirring noise, but it shouldn’t be too loud.

The maximum duration of a scan is usually 30 minutes. However, sometimes 10 minutes might be enough to get a comprehensive picture. After the test, you don’t need to stay in the hospital and will be able to go back home immediately.

Why Might You Need a CT Scan?

This method comes in handy for patients with the following health issues:

  • Bone and joint problems
  • Cancer, heart disease, emphysema, or liver masses
  • Internal injuries and bleeding
  • Tumor, blood clots, excess fluid or infection

Computed tomography enables your health provider to diagnose your condition and monitor its progress. On top of that, your doctor can assess the efficiency of the medications that you receive and fine-tune your treatment plan accordingly. Plus, CT scans can improve the accuracy of biopsies, surgeries and radiation therapy.

Why Might You Need a Contrast?

Your health provider might need to give you barium sulfate or iodine-based contrasts in one of the following methods:

  • Injection. The doctor will inject the substance into your vein. Your blood vessels, urinary tract, liver, and gallbladder will stand out in the image thanks to the dye.
  • Orally. You’ll be required to drink a liquid with the contrast material to enable the medical professional to see how food moves through your organism.
  • Enema. The doctor might need to insert the dye in your rectum to examine your intestine.

You should drink plenty of fluids after the procedure to ensure the contrast substance has left your body.

The dye blocks the X-rays and appears white on the scan. It allows the doctor to estimate the states of your blood vessels, organs and other soft tissues that otherwise would fail to show up as well. Without a contrast, only dense substances like bones are easy to see.

Are There Any Risks?

Computed tomography involves using ionizing radiation in the form of X-rays. If a person is exposed to large doses of radiation without medical control, it might damage their DNA and lead to cancer. However, the amount of radiation used in a CT scan is incredibly small. Therefore, your risks of developing fatal cancer because of this procedure are around 1 in 2,000.

However, the more often you have CT scans, the more radiation accumulates in your organism. It will stay there forever, increasing potential risks. That’s why you should resort to computed tomography only when necessary.

Ionizing radiation is especially risky for kids who have a long life ahead of them. Therefore, the technician should adjust the machine before the scan if the test is for a young patient.

Pregnant ladies might also want to avoid CT scans. Instead, they should stick to diagnostic imaging methods involving radiation, such as an ultrasound.

Are There Any Side Effects?

Most side effects of CT scans are connected with using the contrast:

  • If you’re allergic to iodine, seafood, or certain medications, your allergies might impact the choice of the contrasting agent.
  • If you turn out to be allergic to the contrast, you might get a mild reaction that includes rashes or itchiness.
  • Very rarely, contrast substances can lead to kidney issues.
  • On extremely rare occasions, the patient’s reaction to the dye might be life-threatening. Therefore, to timely detect it and take appropriate measures, the doctor might want to monitor you for a short period after the scan.

Before the exam, you should inform the medical professional about all your health conditions and medication intolerances. Depending on what medications you take, this can change how you prepare for the test. For example, if you’re diagnosed with diabetes and are taking metformin, your healthcare provider might recommend that you stop taking this drug either before or after the scan.

The Price of a CT Scan

Now, we’ve come to an essential question: how much does a CT scan cost? It’s a rather pricey procedure. If your insurance doesn’t cover it, you might need to pay around $500 for a scan in an outpatient health facility. The good news is that you won’t need to repeat a CT test frequently. If on a limited budget, you might try to replace the scan with more affordable alternatives, such as conventional X-rays or ultrasound (only after consultation from your doctor).

Final Thoughts

Hopefully, this article came in handy and now you better understand the essence and benefits of CT scans. This technology uses ionizing radiation, so you should resort to it only when necessary. Yet, its benefits far outweigh any potential risks: the doctor can investigate what’s happening in nearly any part of your body. In addition, you won’t feel any pain or discomfort and the images will be highly detailed and accurate.

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