Overview: The Basics
Computed tomography, abbreviated as “CT,” is a type of radiology imaging that can be used to get images of the abdomen, as well as other parts of the body.
More detailed than X-rays, an abdominal CT scan makes images by rotating around the patient so that internal organ can be viewed from multiple angles in a short period of time.
What to Expect: During the Procedure
On the day of your exam, you will lie on a narrow table that will slide you into the center of the CT scanner. In most cases, you will be instructed to lie on your back with your arms raised above your head.
Then, once you are positioned correctly, the CT scanner’s X-ray beam rotates around you. You will be instructed to remain still during the exam, because movement causes blurred images. In some cases, you may be asked to hold your breath for short intervals.
The CT scanner’s computer takes multiple images of the abdomen referred to as slices. Three-dimensional models of the abdominal area can be made by stacking the slices together.
CT scans of the abdomen typically take less than a half hour.
What can be found?
According to the National Institutes of Health, a CT scan test may be used to look for:
- Cause of abdominal pain or swelling
- Cause of a fever
- Masses and tumors, including cancer
- Infections or injury
- Kidney stones
What happens afterwards?
Following the scan, you should be able to return to your normal diet. You may be instructed to drink water to help flush your system if contrast material was needed for your exam.
You may be given special instructions if you are diabetic or if you have a heart condition.
How to Prepare
You may be asked to not eat any solid food or drink anything for a few hours prior to your procedure. Prior to the CT scan, you may need to have a special dye, called contrast material, put into your body. The dye helps to make the images taken during your scan appear more clearly.
Contrast can be given through an IV in your hand or forearm before the CT scan begins, or you may be instructed to drink the contrast material prior to the exam. The contrast will pass out of your body in the days following the exam. Let your doctor know if you have any known allergies to the contrast material.
It is also important to find out if the CT machine has a weight limit. Some CT scans are ineffective for individuals weighing over 300 pounds.
Before the CT scan, speak with your doctor about whether you may be pregnant, or if you have a chronic illness such as diabetes.