Primary Children's Hospital

(801) 662-1000Map100 Mario Capecchi Dr.Salt Lake City, UT 84113

A Computed Tomography (CT) scan is a kind of x-ray that provides doctors with detailed pictures of the inside of the body. CT scans of internal organs, bones, soft tissue, and blood vessels provide greater clarity and reveal more detail than regular x-ray exams. When someone is sick or injured, a CT can provide doctors with valuable information that may be necessary to make a diagnosis, or to follow up on a particular type of disease.

A CT scan may be done for many different reasons, some of which include:

  • detect conditions such as hydrocephalus (too much fluid in the ventricles of the brain), swelling, inflammation, bleeding, or other signs of brain injury
  • gather information about the presence, location, and size of abscesses, cysts, and tumors
  • locate birth defects or abnormalities within the body
  • look at malformed or injured blood vessels
  • find the cause of headaches, weakness, or a change in mental status
  • evaluate the appendix for inflammation or rupture

Special instructions and preps for your child's exam

Your child may be asked to remove all clothing and accessories and change into a hospital gown because buttons, zippers, clasps, or jewelry might interfere with the images.

Sedation is sometimes required for a child who can't lie still or as a way to relieve anxiety. Since the scan is very brief, other distraction methods may be attempted first. If your child’s exam was scheduled with sedation, fasting may be required. A nurse will contact you 1 to 2 days before the procedure to give you age specific instructions for preparing your child. Sedation medicines are usually given through an IV and will help your child to stay calm and still while the images are taken. A technician will start the IV and a nurse will administer the medicine. A nurse will also monitor your child during and after the procedure until the sedation has worn off. View a child friendly explanation of how an IV is placed.

If you suspect that your daughter is pregnant, it's important to tell the technician or doctor because there is a chance that the radiation from the CT scan may be harmful to the developing baby.

The CT technologist will position your child on the CT exam table. It is very important to hold still to prevent blurring of the images. Before the exam begins the technologist will step into an adjoining room and will be able to see your child through a window. If needed, they can speak to your child through an intercom. You will be able to stay in the CT scan room during the exam. If you do stay in the CT scan room, you will be asked to wear a lead apron to protect your body from radiation exposure. If you leave the CT scan room, you will be asked to sit in a waiting room nearby.

Contrast is sometimes given to highlight certain areas of interest. If contrast solution is required, it may be given orally, through an IV, or rectally if appendicitis is suspected. IV Contrast may cause a warm sensation throughout the body. Your child may also experience a strange metallic taste. This is normal.

When the procedure starts, the table will move through the hole in the center of the CT machine. Older children may be asked to hold their breath for a few seconds to prevent blurring of the images. Your child won't feel anything as the pictures are taken, but may hear the machine making whirring and buzzing sounds. When the scan is complete, your child will be asked to remain still for a few minutes while the technician reviews the images.

Occasionally a portion of the CT scan may need to be redone.
The scan itself generally takes less than 10 minutes. Actual exposure time is much less. The total procedure time depends on the age of the child, whether contrast solution is given, and if sedation is needed. If oral contrast and sedation are needed, your child will need to drink the contrast and wait one hour before sedation can be given.

If no sedation was used the technologist will inform you when it is OK to leave. If your child did require sedation, he or she will stay with a nurse in a recovery area until the sedation has worn off. In this case a nurse will let you know when you can leave. Sedation recovery time is usually 30 to 60 minutes.

The CT images will be looked at by a radiologist who specializes in reading and interpreting images of infants and children. The radiologist will send a report to your doctor, who will discuss and explain the result with you.

Results are generally available from your child’s doctor within 12 to 24 hours. If the CT scan was done on an emergency basis, the results can be made available more quickly. In most cases, results cannot be given directly to the patient or family at the time of the test. If there are serious or unexpected findings, your child’s doctor will be notified and will speak with you before you leave the Radiology Department.

In general, CT scans are safe, and if warranted, the benefit outweighs the risk. Any exposure to radiation poses some risk to the body, but the amount used in an individual CT scan isn't considered dangerous. It's important to know that our radiologists and CT technologist are trained to use the smallest amount of radiation required to obtain the best results. Our department utilizes the Image GentlySM techniques and standards to ensure that your child will be exposed to the minimal amount of radiation required during their procedure. Please refer to the following link for more information regarding radiation safety. 

Contrast solutions are generally safe with a very low incidence of allergic reactions. Talk with your doctor if you have any concerns about a possible allergy. If your child has had a prior reaction to contrast, please inform your child’s physician so arrangements for pre-medication can be made.

You can help your child to prepare for a CT scan by explaining the test in simple terms before coming to the hospital. You can describe the room and the equipment that will be used, and reassure your child that you'll be close by. For older kids, be sure to explain the importance of keeping still so the scan can be completed quickly and parts of it don't have to be repeated. Watch a child friendly explanation of what happens during a CT exam.

If you have questions about why this test is needed, please speak with your doctor. If you have questions about how the test is performed or what happens during a CT exam you may speak with one of our child life specialists or the CT technologist before the procedure.

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