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What is a CT Scan?

CT scan of head

If you would like to get the answer to the question "What is a CT Scan?" you will be interested in the following article.

 

Computerised Tomography (CT or CAT) Scans use a series of X-ray pictures to carry out a body scan by building up an image of the inside of your body, including the brain, bones, organs, and soft tissues. They are particularly useful for assessing internal damage following an accident or stroke, as CT Scans can give a detailed picture of the body without the need for exploratory surgery.

 

CT Scans are a common diagnostic tool at most hospitals in the UK and can be done on an out-patient basis, with the patient usually allowed home the same day. There are very few risks or side effects to the body scan process, although the use of X-rays means it is not suitable for women who know or suspect they are pregnant.

 

This article on the subject of the CT scan is written by Jackie Griffiths, a freelance journalist who writes health, medical, biological, and pharmaceutical articles for national and international journals, newsletters and web sites. 


Why would you have a CT Scan? 

Because they are able to differentiate between many tissue densities, CT Scans can provide very detailed images of bodily tissues, even within the major organs. They can be used to analyse soft tissue, bones, brain, blood vessels, and all the major organs, including the digestive system.

 

CT Scans are particularly useful in assessing:

  • Head injuries, including swelling of the tissue and arteries, and stroke damage
  • Brain tumours and haemorrhages
  • Swelling of the major organs caused by injury or disease
  • Cancerous tumours throughout the body
  • Damage, such as tears to the spleen, kidneys, or liver
  • Bone damage and disease, especially osteoporosis

 

CT Scans can also be used to differentiate normal tissue from tumours when planning radiotherapy or chemotherapy.

 

How it works 

Before your CT scan, you may be given a dye that will help the scanner ‘see’ the area required more clearly. This may be given as an injection, or swallowed, or on rare occasions given as an enema. The most common of these is the Barium Meal, which is swallowed to aid assessment of the digestive tract.

 

You will then lie down on a motorised couch, which will be placed inside the scanner. The scanner itself is a large tube, like a doughnut, but unlike an MRI Scan, only the region to be scanned will need to be inside the machine.

 

Once you have been placed in position, the radiographer will leave the room to avoid over exposure to the X-rays, but you will still be able to talk to them via an intercom.

 

The couch will then move slowly backwards and forwards to allow the machine to take a selection of image ‘slices’ through the body as X-ray emitters and receivers move around your body taking images from various angles. You will be asked to stay as still as possible during the CT scan, and to breathe gently to avoid blurring the images. Your radiographer may ask you to hold your breath from time to time.

 

Your body scan will take around half an hour in total, although much of this time will be used for setting up. Each scan image only takes a few minutes to complete. If you are feeling anxious or are worried about staying still for the scan you can ask for a sedative.

 

After the CT scan you are safe to go home and continue your normal activities. The dye will pass out of your body naturally in due course, although you should help this along by drinking plenty of water. You should receive your results in around two weeks, although this can be speeded up in urgent cases.

 

There is little risk to children or adults from a CT Scan. The radiation involved is no more than you would experience from background radiation over about three years. However, the risks to infants could be higher and therefore you should not have a CT Scan if you are pregnant, or think you could be.

 

Nursing mothers are advised to express milk in advance of their CT scan and to avoid contact with their baby for at least six hours afterwards if there has been a dye used in the treatment. In certain circumstances, nursing mothers may need to express and discard their milk for up to twenty-four hours following a scan.

 

The Spiral CT Scan 

The latest advance in CT Scanning technology is the spiral or helix scanner. This gives a continuous scan by moving the X-ray beam around the patient in a corkscrew pattern.

 

A spiral scan is quicker and more accurate, producing the same body scan results in just a few seconds, reducing the danger of blurring through movement or breathing. Because it is a continuous scan, it also avoids the risk of missing something in between the ‘slices’ of a traditional CT scan.


Jackie Griffiths

Profile of the author

 

Jackie Griffiths writes journal and newsletter articles for companies and non-governmental organisations across the UK. As founder and senior writer at Freelance Copy, she writes top level content for websites and print across a broad range of sectors including health, medical, biological, governmental, and pharmaceutical.


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