Medical Tests: CT Scan (Computerized Tomography)

Computerized tomography (CT) combines x-ray science with computer technology to create clearer anatomical images, such as the spine’s bone, intervertebral discs, and nerve structures.  CT is used to diagnose disc disorders, spinal fracture, infection, tumor, and other problems.

Although radiation levels are closely monitored, CT exposes you to significant levels of radiation.  If radiation exposure is a concern, talk to your doctor.  Our practice only orders a CT scan when it is an essential step in the diagnostic process.

How it Works

During the scan, you lie on a padded table that is part of the CT scanner, which is a large doughnut-shaped machine.  CT directs a series of x-rays at specific angles through the body part being examined.  A detector transmits the scan data to a computer, which uses mathematical and other algorithms to analyze, reconstruct, and create detailed cross-sectional images (tomograms).  CT images can be displayed on a monitor, stored as computer files (digitized) or printed on film.

What to Expect

CT requires no special physical preparation.  It is not necessary to restrict food or fluids prior to the test, unless a contrast media (dye) is injected.  If contrast is to be used, special pre-test instructions are provided.

It is best to leave jewelry and other valuables at home.  You will be asked to remove metal objects (i.e. belt buckle) and wear a medical gown. 

Once positioned on the CT table and gently strapped into place to help restrict movement, you are covered with a blanket and the table slides into the scanner opening.  It is important to remain as still as possible during the scan. 

If you are claustrophobic, a mild sedative is available.  Many facilities offer a headset and music selection to listen to during the test.

The technician performs the test from a room adjacent to the CT area.  Throughout the entire test, the technician can see and communicate with you.  The test takes about 30-60 minutes. 

Conclusion

It is not uncommon for a patient to be nervous before any test, including a CT scan.  Please discuss your concerns with your doctor whose team of experts will do everything possible to help you to be comfortable and relaxed during the test.