Sometimes, during a checkup, your attending physician will discover something that requires further testing or screening, like a CT scan. The prospect of getting scanned can be intimidating to some, especially when they don’t know what it involves. However, the scan is a fairly simple process and is easy to prepare for, which means that it always goes smoothly.
If you’ve heard different things about CT scans and you’d like to separate fact from fiction, here’s what you need to know about preparing for one:
How the CT Scan Works
CT scans work similarly to other x-ray exams. It uses multiple x-ray beams and electronic x-ray detectors and rotates them around you while measuring the amount of radiation your body absorbs. The technician will also administer a contrast material to improve visibility in the section of the body being scanned.
The examination moves through the scanner simultaneously, creating a spiral path for the x-ray beam to follow. Then, a special computer processes the images taken to produce two-dimensional cross-sectional images, which it will display on a monitor. Modern CT scanners operate so fast that they scan large sections of the body in mere seconds. The speed at which they run is crucial for all patients, especially children, the elderly, and the severely ill.
Preparing for the Scan
Your doctor may ask you to fast several hours before the scan, as the CT technician will administer a contrast material, which freshly-consumed food and drink can obscure. You will also have to remove metal objects such as eyeglasses, dentures, and jewelry before your scan. The technician may also ask you to remove your hearing aids if you wear them. If you have metal implants, be sure to communicate this to your technician before the exam begins. You are also encouraged to wear comfortable, loose-fitting clothing, although you may also be given a gown to wear during the exam.
Additionally, talk to your doctor about current or recent medical conditions or illnesses you may have had. It is also important to let them know of a history of asthma, heart disease, diabetes, kidney disease, or thyroid problems, which may increase the risk of an unusual side effect. Bring a list of your current medications with you to your exam as well.
Before the Scan
The technician will begin the process by positioning you on the examination table, putting you flat on your back, side, or stomach. They may use straps and pillows to keep you in the correct position for the duration of the scan. The contrast material will be injected through an intravenous line into your vein. They may also scan the lower area of your spine after injecting the contrast material to identify tumors or areas of inflammation.
Then, the table will move rapidly in the scanner to identify the correct starting position for the exam. It will then move slowly once it begins the actual scanning process. The technician may ask you to hold your breath at this time. Once the exam is completed, the technician will review the images to determine the quality and ensure they are detailed enough for the radiologist to read, during which you will stay in position. The exam usually completes within 30 minutes.
After the Scan
CT exams are usually quick, easy, and painless. However, you may experience some discomfort by needing to stay still for several minutes. If you are claustrophobic, have difficulty staying still, or have chronic pain, you may find the exam stressful or traumatic. In this case, the technician or nurse can administer a mild sedative.
Some patients experience itches and hives after the scan, which are easily treatable with medication. However, if you become light-headed or have trouble breathing, inform the nurse or technician right away, as it may be a sign of a severe allergic reaction.
CT scans can be intimidating to many people, but the process is straightforward and fast, making it one of the most time-efficient exams. Stay tuned for part 2 to learn more about how to prepare for a CT scan.
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