CT Scans: Frequently Asked Questions

CT stands for Computed Tomography (CT) and is sometimes referred to as a Computerized Axial Tomography (CAT) scan. This technology works by taking a series of X-ray images of your body, compiling them to create a more detailed image of your body’s internal structures such as bone and tissue. CT scans are used for a variety of purposes including identifying internal injury and planning different forms of medical treatment. Below we have answered the most frequently asked questions about CT scans including preparation, risk, and more.

Question: What is the difference between a CT and an MRI?
Answer: The difference between a CT and an MRI is that CT scans use radiation to acquire the information and MRI scanning involves the use of magnetics.

Question: Is there any radiation involved with a CT scan?
Answer: Yes, CT uses Ionizing radiation (X-ray), however the low doses of radiation used in CT scans are very unlikely to lead to cancer. The radiation from a CT scan is higher than that of an X-ray; however, the increase in cancer risk from one CT scan is still small. Not having the CT scan can be much more risky than having it, especially if it is being used to diagnose cancer or another serious illness.

Question: What can someone expect from a CT imaging test?
Answer: CT scans take anywhere from one minute to 15 minutes. CT scans do not hurt; however, some tests require the use of IV contrast where a needle is used. CT scans involve some radiation exposure, but there are no side effects from the exam. Patients are instructed to remain still during a CT scan. Any motion causes blurred imaging and may require additional scanning. Our CT scanners are different and have different weight limits, our Newport News CT weight limit is 400lb and our Williamsburg scanner is 500lbs.

Question: What happens after I’ve had a CT? When will I receive my results?
Answer: After the CT scan, a patient can resume life as normal and results are usually available the next day.

Question: What is contrast media and will I need to drink contrast or need an IV?
Answer: Oral contrast is barium, white in color, and patients drink it two hours before a scan. IV contrast is used to highlight the vascular side of organs. IV and oral contrast are given for certain diagnoses. CT scans are different depending on diagnosis, body part, and patient limitation.

Question: Could I have a bad reaction to the IV contrast?
Answer: Most people don’t have any reaction to IV contrast; however, some do. Those who have a contrast allergy typically experience hives, rashes, or itchy skin. Hives and rashes typically present before patients leave the office and can be treated in-house.

Question: Can I eat before a CT scan?
Answer: If you aren’t receiving contrast (oral or IV), then yes. If you are receiving contrast, then you can’t have anything by mouth except water four hours before the scan.

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