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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 images together to create cross-sectional views of the body.

A CT scan provides detailed pictures to:

  • Help your child’s healthcare provider diagnose a problem.
  • Check your child’s health after a treatment, such as surgery or chemotherapy.

When is it used?

CT scans are used when your healthcare provider needs more detailed information than regular X-rays can give. CT scans can show bone, muscle, fat, lymph nodes, organs, and blood vessels in detail. For example, a CT scan may be used to:

  • Check for swelling or bleeding in the brain after a head injury.
  • Look for signs of appendicitis.
  • Help your healthcare provider guide a needle or catheter into the correct place in the body.

How do I prepare my child for this test?

  • 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 need to swallow a special liquid (contrast dye) several hours before the scan.
  • Your child should wear comfortable clothing that has no metal fastenings like zippers or hooks. Leave watches and jewelry at home.
  • 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.)
  • 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 test?

CT scans can be done in either a hospital or mobile unit.

Your child will lie down on a moving table, which will slide into a tunnel-like scanning machine. Inside the scanner, multiple X-ray beams are passed very quickly through your child’s body at different angles. Images of the body can be seen on a TV screen and prepared for your healthcare provider to examine later.

A solution of contrast dye may be injected into a vein, or your child may be asked to swallow a dye solution. The dye allows the scanner to show abnormal areas as the dye passes through the body. 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.

Scans may last 15 to 90 minutes. They are painless, but if your child has a hard time staying still, your child may be given medicine to help him relax.

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

What happens after the test?

If your child had sedation, he will be watched carefully until he wakes up from the scan. Usually, your child will be ready to go home in a short while--15 minutes to a couple hours.

If your child was given dye for the scan, encourage your child to drink a lot of fluids after the scan. This helps your child’s body get rid of the dye. In rare cases some children have an allergic reaction to the dye. Most reactions happen right away, but your child could have a delayed reaction.

Ask your 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 test?

Your healthcare provider will explain the procedure and any risks. Some possible risks include:

  • CT scans expose the body to more radiation than a regular X-ray. The amount of radiation depends on the size of the area being scanned. Exposure to radiation can be dangerous if your child is exposed to it often or in large amounts. If your child has a medical problem that requires repeated CT scans, you should ask your healthcare provider about how much radiation your child is being exposed to and whether you can decrease the number of CT scans your child needs.
  • In rare cases your child may have an allergic reaction to medicines used during the procedure.

There is risk with every treatment or 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 2012.2 published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2012-02-09
Last reviewed: 2011-11-02
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.
© 2012 RelayHealth and/or its affiliates. All rights reserved.
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