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CT scanning—sometimes called CAT scanning—is a noninvasive medical test that helps physicians diagnose and treat medical conditions.
CT imaging combines special x-ray equipment with sophisticated computers to produce multiple images or pictures of the inside of the body. These cross-sectional images of the area being studied can then be examined on a computer monitor or printed.
CT scans of internal organs, bone, soft tissue and blood vessels provide greater clarity and reveal more details than regular x-ray exams.
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Contrast agents commonly used in CT are oral agents such as Barium, water soluble contrast, or an IV contrast that is injected into a vein in the arm. All are used to provide better visualization of the different organs in the body and greatly improve the quality of your exam.
The main difference is that MRI and CT modalities are used to assess different problems. MRI or Magnetic Resonance Imaging uses a powerful magnet and radio waves to send images of the body to a computer. There is no radiation in MRI. CT or Computed Tomography uses radiation and a computer to create images. CT scans are faster than MRI scans and it is more often necessary to drink an oral contrast agent for CT. Both MRI and CT often use intravenous contrast agents given thru an I.V. catheter placed in the arm. MRI makes more noise during the exam compared to CT scans.
The amount of radiation exposure depends on the different areas of the body being scanned as well as patient size. Our goal is to acquire quality images at the lowest radiation dose possible. Advancement in technology provides us with the capability to achieve this goal and we can compare an individual scan to the amount of natural background radiation accumulated we receive from the atmosphere. Special considerations are given by our radiologist for pediatric patients making it possible to lower the dose significantly.
It is possible for a family member to accompany you as we prepare for the examination. They will then be asked to leave the scan room during the actual scan because of the radiation. Special consideration will be made for children and patients needing further assistance.
The CT examination requires you to lie still and follow special breathing instructions for short periods of time, which should not cause pain. It may be necessary to have an I.V. Catheter placed in your arm which would be similar in experience to having your blood drawn and may cause discomfort.
Most Doctors allow the use of contrast agents, those you drink, as well as those injected at the discretion of the radiologists. Depending on the area of the body being evaluated, as well as your symptoms and medical history, contrast agents are given to improve the quality of your exam. Images of your body are better evaluated with the use of contrast agents.
The CT scanner is controlled from an advanced computer console that can only be operated by the technologist. There is a window between the scan room and the operator console. The technologist is able to see you and communicate with you thru the entire exam.
Patients typically spend less that one minute in the scanner. Most patients are able to tolerate a CT scan, which is more open than MRI.
Barium and other forms of oral and I.V. contrast agents improve the quality of the images. They provide better visualization of different areas of the body.
Articles of clothing containing snaps or zippers, as well as jewelry may need to be removed if they are on the area of the body being scanned. Metal may distort the images, but will not adversely affect your safety as it will in an MRI. You will be provided with a gown when necessary.
You will be able to return to normal activity following your CT scan. You may be given special instructions to follow for certain health conditions.
You may experience a hot sensation in different areas of your body while receiving I.V. contrast, this sensation is common and expected. You must inform your Doctor and our staff if you have ever experienced difficulty with x-ray dye or iodine. Special medications may need to be prescribed before your exam if you have a history of past allergies to x-ray dye or iodine.
It may be necessary to inject I.V. contrast to improve the quality of your exam and better evaluate the organs of the body. Some studies require an injection to highlight certain areas of concern. I.V. contrast improves visualization of the different soft tissues in the body.