What is a CT Scan? Types, uses, procedures and risks

Contributed by: Anjali Sharma


Over the years, doctors and other healthcare professionals have developed a variety of diagnostic techniques to examine the symptoms and organs of a person’s body, and one such technique is the CT scan.

Some medical conditions require a thorough examination of your body’s tissues, blood vessels, and bones. While X-rays and ultrasounds can provide some insight, a computed tomography (CT) scan is usually the next step when a more thorough picture is needed.

In this article, we will examine the operation, common applications, and methods of use of a CT scan in more detail.

What is a CT Scan?

A CT scan is a medical diagnostic procedure that allows the doctor to see the inside of your body.

It uses X-rays and a computer to take photographs of your organs, bones and other tissues. It displays more information than a standard X-ray.

A CT scan can be done for any part of your body. It doesn’t take long, and there is no discomfort.

How does CT scanner work?

During a CT scan, a specific area of ​​your body is scanned by a focused X-ray beam. It is a collection of photos taken from many perspectives. This data is used by a computer to create a cross-sectional image. This two-dimensional (2D) scan shows a ‘slice’ of the inside of your body, like a slice of bread.

Several slices are made by repeating this process. These scans are stacked on top of each other by a computer to create a complex representation of your internal organs, bones or blood vessels. For example, a surgeon would use this type of scan to examine a tumor from all angles to plan an operation.

Types of CT Scans

Below are some different CT scan techniques.

CT angiography

A doctor may order a CT angiography, often called an angiogram, to determine a patient’s risk of developing a heart attack. The scan can help medical professionals identify blood vessel problems such as aneurysms or blockages.

A healthcare provider injects dye into the blood vessels before the scan, which makes blood flow in the body more clearly visible. The blood vessels are then captured on film by a CT technician.

CT stomach scan

A technician will use a scanner to create images of the intestines, colon, liver, spleen, and appendix during an abdominal CT scan. A doctor may recommend an abdominal scan to look for malignancy, such as a colon tumor, or to identify and rule out abscesses, internal bleeding, or both in the area.

Medical specialists sometimes use a CT scan of the bones and X-rays to detect fractures and other problems with the bones. If a conventional X-ray result is inconclusive, a doctor will order a CT scan because it can provide more detail.

Tendons and muscles close to the bone can be seen more clearly with a CT scan of the bone. A CT scan of the bone can also be helpful in detecting bone cancer.

Head CT scan

If a patient complains of unexplained headaches or dizziness, a doctor may recommend a CT scan of the head. The technique can help diagnose stroke or brain damage. Images of the brain and other parts of the head, such as the sinuses, are captured during head CT.

A head CT may be helpful in patients with persistent sinus problems to find out if the area is still inflamed.

Chest CT scan

A CT scan of the chest and lungs can provide a doctor with a precise picture of a patient’s lungs. If a patient complains of chest discomfort or shortness of breath, a doctor may request a scan. Doctors can use the images to diagnose lung cancer, pneumonia, TB, or diseases including excess fluid in the lungs.

Cardiac CT

Images of the chest region are also taken during a cardiac CT scan. Unlike the lungs, the heart is important. A cardiac CT may be ordered by a physician to look for problems in the aorta, heart valves, or other arteries.

When a treatment, such as coronary artery bypass grafting, is performed, a doctor may sometimes request a cardiac CT scan to monitor the patient’s condition.

Neck CT scan

The base of the skull to the top of the lungs is routinely imaged during CT scans of the neck. Tumors or masses are found in the neck, tongue, vocal cords, or upper airway and can be diagnosed with a scan. A doctor may also use a neck CT scan to look for thyroid gland enlargement or other abnormalities or problems with the carotid artery.

Pelvic CT scan

A pelvic CT scan will image the area of ​​the body between the hip bones. It can help diagnose abnormalities of the male or female reproductive system as well as identify bladder disorders such as tumors or bladder stones.

Kidney CT scan

A CT scan of the kidney is a frequent reason for finding and confirming the presence of kidney stones. The scan can help detect signs of malignancy, abscesses and kidney disease.

CT scan of the spine

Images of the skeletal spinal structures, the discs between the bones, and the soft tissues of the spinal column are all captured by a spine CT scan. A CT scan of the spine can be used to identify herniated discs, diagnose injuries to the area, and examine the area before surgery.

A doctor may sometimes use a CT of the spine to determine the extent of bone loss due to osteoporosis in this area. Additionally, a CT scan of the spine may help with biopsy or other techniques.

Use of CT scan

There are several reasons why doctors recommend a CT scan, including:

  • CT scans are capable of detecting malignancies and complex bone fractures, among other joint and bone conditions.
  • CT scans can detect conditions such as cancer, heart disease, emphysema, or liver tumors and enable medical professionals to notice any changes in such conditions.
  • They exhibit internal bleeding and bruising similar to an auto accident.
  • They can help with a tumor, blood clot, excess fluid or infection. Doctors hire them to plan treatments and conduct operations like biopsies, surgery and radiation therapy.
  • To determine whether certain therapies are effective, doctors can compare CT scans. For example, repeated scans of a tumor over time can reveal how well chemotherapy or radiation is working.

CT scan procedure

For a CT scan, the patient is asked to lie supine. The scanner passes over the patient as he lies in a sleeping position.

For the best images to be produced during the scan, patients are asked to maintain their stillness and stability. The technician moves into an adjacent room for the duration of the procedure, although there is a facility for intercom communication between the technician and the patient.

The main body components are repeatedly X-rayed by a CT scanner. To gain better insight, photos are taken from different perspectives. Unlike MRI equipment, CT scan machines are not loud throughout the process.

Risks of CT scan

CT scans are generally considered safe by medical professionals. CT scans in children are also safe. Your CT technician can use equipment designed with children in mind to minimize their radiation exposure.

Like other diagnostic procedures, CT scan Create images using a small amount of ionizing radiation. Dangers associated with CT scans include:

  • Cancer risk: All radiation-based imaging procedures, such as X-rays, slightly increase your chance of developing cancer. The change is too small to measure accurately.
  • Risk of Allergy: Occasionally, individuals may experience a mild or severe allergic reaction to the contrast agent.

Talk to your healthcare professional if you have any questions about the potential health risks of CT scans. They will go through your concerns and help you make an informed decision.

Is CT Scan safe for pregnant women?

Tell the CT technician if you think or may be pregnant. During pelvic and abdominal CT scans, the growing fetus may be exposed to radiation, but may not be harmful. CT scans in other parts of the body pose no danger to the fetus.

Last thought

CT scan is a superior diagnostic tool. When your doctor requests a CT scan, you may be concerned. However, there are very few dangers associated with this simple, safe test. The advantage is that a CT scan can help your doctors accurately diagnose a health problem and offer you the best course of therapy.

Any concerns you may feel, including the possibility of other tests, should be discussed with your healthcare professional.

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