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.
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:
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 camera shaped like a donut and a large opening 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:
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.
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:
Every procedure or treatment has risks. Some possible risks of this scan include:
Ask your healthcare provider how these risks apply to your child. Be sure to discuss any other questions or concerns that you may have.