If it’s not been possible to diagnose what’s causing your symptoms from a physical examination, you may need to have a scan of some kind. In this article BMI Healthcare discuss one of the more common scans and what it involes.
A CT scan (or ‘CAT scan’) is a lot like an X-ray, except it runs from head-to-toe rather than front-to-back. They’re also a lot more detailed, clearly showing the shape of your organs, blood vessels and bones. This allows doctors to see inside your body without having to carry out invasive investigations.
There are lots of reasons why you may be told you need a CT scan. They can help to diagnose a condition, see if a treatment has been successful, or help guide the next stage of your treatment. A CT scan is especially useful if it is suspected you may have cancer or a heart condition, or you are seeking to resolve back problems.
Preparing for your CT scan
You will need to make some preparations before your CT scan, and dress appropriately. You may be asked to avoid eating anything for a few hours before your scan, and will need to remove anything with metal, including piercings, buttons, zips and bras with underwire.
You may need to ingest a liquid called a ‘contrast agent’ to help improve the quality of the images. This might be given to you as a drink, an injection or an enema. If you’re feeling anxious or claustrophobic about the whole procedure, or if you’re unable to lie still for any reason, a sedative may be recommended.
During your CT scan
The procedure is totally painless; in fact, you won’t feel a thing. Throughout the scan, you need to lie very still and breathe normally on a flat bed while the scanner does its work. The person conducting your CT scan is called a radiographer and they will be based in the next room.
The scanner itself is a doughnut-shaped ring that passes along the bed, so you shouldn’t feel enclosed at any point. You may be asked to breathe in, breathe out or hold your breath at various points; the radiographer will communicate with you via intercom.
After your CT scan
After the scan is complete, you should be free to go home and eat and drink as normal. You may be asked to wait around for an hour or so if a contrast agent has been used, as some people can experience a reaction to it. If you haven’t had a sedative, you’re even safe to drive home or head straight to work.
Your results may take a few days to come through. They will be assessed by a radiologist, who is specially trained to read and analyse the images, and they will pass their findings on to your referring doctor. The results will be communicated to you at a follow-up appointment.
What are the risks associated with a CT scan?
As with any X-ray, a CT scan means you will be exposed to a small amount of radiation. The shape of the machine is designed to ensure that only the part of your body that needs scanning is exposed to radiation, and to keep the levels as low as possible.
With this in mind, CT scans are only carried out during pregnancy in an emergency. There is also a small chance you have a reaction to the contrast agent.
If you have any other questions about CT scanning or wish to book a private CT scan, you can make an online enquiry here and a member of the BMI Healthcare team will be in touch.