A CT scan — also called a CAT scan — helps your doctor and radiologist take a closer look at your child's internal organs, bony anatomy, blood vessels and soft tissues. It offers much more detail than a general x-ray.
CTs are ordered for many reasons. Typical conditions or symptoms that the test can help evaluate include:
Complications from infections, such as pneumonia
Bony structures of the spine
Traumatic bony injuries such as a fractured ankle
Brain injuries and fractures
Soft tissue organ trauma
CT scans use a combination of x-rays (radiation) and computer technology. Cross-sectional imaging takes many pictures very quickly. Exactly how each CT is performed is tailored to your child's weight and age, and which body part is being imaged. All of our equipment and protocols provide the least amount of radiation necessary. Learn more about how we are committed to reducing radiation doses in children.
When your child has a CT, they are brought to the room and placed on the imaging table. Most often children lay on their backs, but scans can be done in any position.
A child may go in the machine head first or feet first, depending on the body part being imaged. Whenever possible, we have your child go in feet first so their head and hands are outside where you can hold them. We use “seatbelts” to keep your child secure.
With younger children, the technologist may do a “practice run.” Usually, two sets of pictures are taken. Also depending on the CT type, your child may have to hold his or her breath. The technologist first explains this so the mechanized voice giving breathing directions does not startle your child.
If the CT procedure requires contrast, it is given orally or intravenously.
An IV is started by the nursing staff or the vascular access team. First, to numb the skin, we use a product that infuses a numbing agent into the skin without a needle.
If your child needs to drink the oral contrast, you may bring with you any non-milk or non-carbonated drink like juice or lemonade to be used.
Some CT scans are as short as five seconds and some are longer, dependent on the body part being imaged. Since images can be reviewed in nearly real time, the radiologist checks images before your child is taken off of the bed. During this time, it is important your child stay still in case more scans are needed.
After the test, your child may return to regular daily activities and meals. A nurse will give you any special instructions, and a phone number to call with questions. Results are available to your child's referring doctor within 24 hours to 48 hours.
If your child is sedated, a nurse will monitor your child until awake. While this amount of time varies, it's typical to sleep up to two hours after medicine is given.
If your child has IV contrast injected, you can offer extra fluids to help flush the contrast, which is typically gone within 24 hours.