crsheader Index CT Scan

What is a CT scan?

A CT scan is an X-ray test used for diagnosis. CT stands for computed tomography. It is also called a CAT scan. For this test, X-rays are taken from a series of different angles and arranged by a computer to show cross-sectional views of different parts of the body.

When is it used?

CT scans are used when your child’s healthcare provider needs more information than regular X-rays provide. CT scans can show bone, muscle, fat, organs, and blood vessels in great detail. Some examples of when a CT scan is used are:

  • to check for swelling or bleeding in the brain after a head injury
  • to look for signs of appendicitis
  • to help doctors guide needles or catheters into the correct place in the body

How do I prepare my child for a CT scan?

Be sure to tell your child’s healthcare provider if your child is allergic to shellfish, any medicines, or to chemicals such as iodine. A dye (also called contrast) that contains iodine may be used for the test.

For most scans no preparation is necessary. Your child’s healthcare provider will give you special instructions, if needed. For example, if your child is having a CT scan of the abdomen or pelvis, your child should not eat solid food for several hours before the scan. Your child may need to swallow a special liquid several hours before the scan.

What happens during the procedure?

CT scans can be done in either a hospital or mobile unit that works with children. Since children are much smaller than adults, lower X-ray doses should be used.

Your child will lie down on a moving table, which will slide your child into the tunnel-like scanning machine. The scanner can move around your child to change the angles of the X-rays.

Inside the scanner, multiple X-ray beams are passed very quickly through your child’s body at different angles. The images are projected onto a TV screen and prepared for your child’s healthcare provider to examine.

A solution of dye (also called contrast) may be injected into a vein, or your child may be asked to swallow the solution. This allows the scanner to show any abnormal areas as the dye passes through your child’s body.

Scans may last 15 to 90 minutes. They are painless, but if your child has a hard time staying still, your child may be given medicine to help him relax.

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

What happens after the procedure?

If your child had sedation, he will be watched carefully until he wakes up from the scan. Usually, your child will be ready to go home in 15 minutes to a few hours.

If your child was given dye for the scan, encourage your child to drink a lot of fluids after the scan. This helps your child’s body get rid of the dye.

Rarely some children have an allergic reaction to the dye. Most reactions happen right away, but your child could have a delayed reaction. Signs of a reaction include itching, rash, or sweating. If your child start having these symptoms, call your child’s healthcare provider right away. If your child’s throat gets swollen or your child has trouble breathing, call 911 for emergency medical care.

What are the benefits and risks of this procedure?

A CT scan provides detailed pictures to:

  • Help your child’s healthcare provider diagnose a problem.
  • Check your child’s health after a treatment such as surgery or chemotherapy.

When your child has a CT scan, your child’s body is exposed to more radiation than a normal X-ray. The amount of radiation depends on the size of the area being scanned. Talk with your provider about this.

There is a small risk that your child will have an allergic reaction to the dye. This is more likely if your child has a shellfish allergy. Even if your child is not allergic to the dye, the dye may cause warm feelings, a flushed face, headache, or a salty taste in the mouth. Rarely, it can cause nausea and vomiting.

When should I call my child’s healthcare provider?

Call your child’s provider right away if:

  • Your child has a worsening of the pain or other symptoms your child had before the test.
  • Your child is having symptoms of an allergic reaction: itching, rash, or sweating. If your child’s throat is swollen or your child has trouble breathing, call 911.

Developed by RelayHealth. Published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2011-06-27
Last reviewed: 2011-06-17 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. References
Pediatric Advisor 2011.4 Index
© 2011 RelayHealth and/or its affiliates. All rights reserved.