A CT scan (sometimes called a CAT scan) is a test that uses x-rays to create clear, detailed images of body tissues and organs. CT scans help doctors diagnose and treat many types of pediatric injuries and illnesses. A CT scan can be performed on any part of a child’s body. The scan is usually performed at a hospital as either an outpatient test or inpatient test.
CT scans are generally painless. Though the scanning itself causes no pain, your child may experience some discomfort from having to remain still for several minutes. Your child may experience some discomfort if an intravenous [in-truh-VEE-nuhs] contrast agent is used. The intravenous contrast agent is a substance put into your child’s blood to enhance the visibility of structures inside the body. A child may feel pain from the insertion of the IV (small tube inserted in a vein), but it should be temporary.
In rare cases, children may have a reaction from the contrast agent. If a reaction occurs, your child may be given medicine.
CT scans can provide detailed images to help doctors evaluate and quickly treat illnesses or injuries. The amount of radiation that your child is exposed to is very low and, rarely, are there complications from the scan itself.
Before the scan, you will meet with your child’s doctor to talk about the CT scan and what you should expect. Here are some tips:
- Inform the doctor of any allergies your child may have. The doctor especially needs to know if your child has asthma, or has had a bad reaction to contrast agents in the past.
- Inform the doctor of any medications your child may be taking.
- If directed, be sure your child avoids food and drinks before the scan. If contrast will be used for the scan, be sure your child does not eat or drink anything for 2 hours beforehand.
- Your child should wear loose, comfortable clothing and may be asked to wear a gown during the scan.
During a CT scan, special x-ray equipment takes many images from different angles by rotating an x-ray tube around your child’s body. Your child will be positioned comfortably on a table during the scan. A computer then uses the information to create detailed images. The images look like thin cross-sections (“slices”) of the area being studied.
Some CT scans use a clear liquid called contrast. Contrast is a special dye that shows up on x-rays. During the CT scan, the contrast helps to highlight blood vessels or certain types of tissue. The contrast may be administered to your child by mouth or by an injection into a vein in your child’s arm.
Depending on the age of your child, the doctor may recommend a sedative to keep your child calm and still during the scan. It is important that your child remain still for the scan. Movement can blur the images.
Most CT scans usually take 15 minutes or less. If your child’s CT includes contrast, the test may take longer depending on the type of contrast used for the scan. Your child’s doctor or the CT technician will tell you how much time the test will take. You may be allowed in the room with your child, but you will be required to wear a lead apron to prevent radiation exposure.
A radiologist, a doctor who specializes in reading imaging tests, will analyze the images and send a report to your child’s doctor. It may take a few days to get the results. Your doctor or nurse will usually call you with the results or discuss them with you during a follow-up appointment. If the test was done because of an emergency, the results will be available more quickly.
Generally, after a CT scan, your child can resume his or her normal activities. If your child received sedation for the CT scan, you and your child will stay at the hospital so that your child can be monitored as they wake up from the sedation.