Computed tomography—or CT—uses computer technology and a series of X-rays to create a multi-dimensional image of the body. CT scans provide more detailed information over traditional X-rays, and can help detect brain tumors, herniated disks, narrowing of the spinal canal, and other conditions.
A CT scan is particularly well suited to quickly examine people who may have internal injuries from car accidents or other types of trauma. A CT scan can also visualize the brain and — with the help of injected contrast material — check for blockages or other problems in your blood vessels.
In order for the physician to better understand your condition, he or she may suggest a CT scan to help:
How you prepare for a CT scan depends on which part of your body is being scanned. You may be asked to remove your clothing and wear a hospital gown. You'll need to remove any metal objects, such as jewelry, that might interfere with image results.
Contrast material. A contrast material dye is needed for some CT scans, to help highlight the areas of your body being examined. The contrast material blocks X-rays and appears white on images, which can help emphasize blood vessels, bowel or other structures. Contrast material can enter your body in a variety of ways.
Radiation exposure. During a CT scan, you're briefly exposed to more radiation than you would be during a plain X-ray. Radiation exposure potentially increases your risk of developing cancer, but doctors and other scientists believe that CT scans provide enough valuable information to outweigh their potential risks. Be sure to inform your doctor if you're pregnant. He or she may recommend another type of exam, such as ultrasound or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), to avoid the risk of exposing your fetus to the radiation.