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CT Scan

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KEY POINTS

  • A CT scan is a type of X-ray test. X-rays are taken from different angles surrounding the child, and a computer creates detailed views of brain, bone, muscle, fat, lymph nodes, organs, and blood vessels.
  • For some CT scans, no special preparation is needed. For others, your child may have special directions about what your child can eat and drink before the test. Your child may have contrast dye for some CT scans.
  • Ask your healthcare provider how and when you will get your child’s test results.

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What is a CT scan?

A CT scan, also called computed tomography or CAT scan, is a type of X-ray test. X-rays are taken from different angles surrounding the person, and a computer puts the X-ray pictures together to create detailed views of the body. CT scans can show brain, bone, muscle, fat, lymph nodes, organs, and blood vessels in detail.

When is it used?

CT scans are used when your healthcare provider needs more information than regular X-rays can show. For example, a CT scan may be used to:

  • Show more details of a specific area of your child’s body
  • Help your healthcare provider guide a needle or catheter into the correct place in the body for a test or treatment
  • Check for swelling or bleeding in the brain after a head injury

How do I prepare my child for this scan?

  • For some CT scans, no special preparation is necessary. For others you may have special directions about what your child should not eat and drink before the test. Follow any instructions your healthcare provider may give you.
  • Your child may or may not need to take regular medicines the day of the procedure. Tell your child’s healthcare provider about all medicines and supplements that your child takes. Ask your provider if your child needs to avoid taking any medicine or supplements before the procedure.
  • Tell your provider if your child has had any kidney problems or reactions to X-ray contrast dye. Swallowed and injected contrast dye, which may contain iodine, is used for some CT scans.
  • Tell your child’s healthcare provider if your child has any food, medicine, or other allergies such as latex.
  • Your child should wear comfortable clothing that has no metal zippers, buttons, or hooks. Leave watches and jewelry at home.
  • Tell your provider if your older child is or may be pregnant or is breastfeeding.
  • Tell your provider if your child is afraid of enclosed spaces. Your provider may prescribe medicine to help your child relax during the scan.
  • Ask any questions you have before the procedure. You should understand what your healthcare provider is going to do. You have the right to make decisions about your child’s healthcare and to give permission for any tests or procedures.

What happens during the scan?

CT scans can be done in a hospital, an imaging center, or mobile unit.

Your child will lie down on a moving table that will slide into a donut-shaped scanning machine. Inside the scanner, many X-ray beams are passed very quickly through your child’s body at many different angles. Your child will need to stay still sometimes hold his or her breath briefly during the scan so that the pictures will not be blurry. Images of your child’s body can be seen on a computer screen and prepared for your healthcare provider to examine later.

For some scans, contrast dye may be needed to help show the part of the body being scanned. Contrast dye may be given in different ways. It may be:

  • Injected into a vein
  • Given as a chalky liquid that your child drinks
  • Given into your child’s rectum as an enema

The contrast dye may make your child feel warm. Your child’s face may get flushed, or your child may get a headache or have a salty taste in the mouth. In rare cases, the contrast dye can cause nausea and vomiting.

Depending on what area is being scanned, and whether or not a contrast dye is used, scans may last 15 to 30 minutes or longer. They are painless, but if your child has a hard time staying still, your child may be given medicine to help relax during the scan.

Because of the small, enclosed space, some children get anxious. It may help to bring a favorite toy or blanket to comfort your child before the scan, or let your child listen to favorite music during the scan. If your child starts feeling scared during the scan, it may be stopped.

What happens after the scan?

Usually, your child can go home soon after the test. If your child was given medicine to help relax, your child will be watched carefully until your child is fully awake and alert. This may take 15 minutes to 2 hours.

If your child was given contrast dye for the scan, encourage your child to drink lots of liquids after the scan. This helps your child’s body get rid of the contrast dye.

Ask your child’s healthcare provider:

  • How and when you will get your child’s test results
  • What symptoms or problems you should watch for and what to do if your child has them

What are the risks of this scan?

Every procedure or treatment has risks. Some possible risks of this scan include:

  • The radiation your child gets from a CT scan may cause a small increase in the lifetime risk of developing cancer.
  • In rare cases, your child may have an allergic reaction to medicines used during the procedure.
  • If your child has chronic kidney disease, the contrast dye may cause serious problems with the kidneys.
  • If your child is pregnant, there is a risk the X-rays will hurt the baby.

Ask your healthcare provider how these risks apply to your child. Be sure to discuss any other questions or concerns that you may have.

Developed by Change Healthcare.
Pediatric Advisor 2019.4 published by Change Healthcare.
Last modified: 2019-09-03
Last reviewed: 2019-09-03
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
© 2018 Change Healthcare LLC and/or one of its subsidiaries
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