A CT scan — also called a CAT scan — helps the doctor and radiologist take a closer look at your child's internal organs, bones, blood vessels and soft tissues. It offers more detail than a general x-ray. The CT machine is shaped like a large doughnut, where your child moves through the opening of the doughnut on an exam table.
CTs are ordered for many reasons. Typical conditions or symptoms that a CT scan can evaluate include:
Complications of infection, such as pneumonia or abscess
Airway disease such as inflammation of the bronchi (breathing passages)
Blood vessel abnormalities
Tumors and metastatic disease
Bony structures of the spine, pelvis, and limbs, including fractures
Stones in the kidneys and urinary tract
Brain injury/bleeding and skull fractures
Internal organ or blood vessel injury/trauma
CT scans use a combination of x-rays (radiation) and computer technology. Exactly how each CT is performed is customized to your child's weight, age, and which body part is being scanned. Our equipment and protocols use the least amount of radiation necessary to gain results. Learn more about our leadership role in the Image Gently Campaign. Lurie Children’s CT services are also ACR accredited to ensure that our screenings are safe for your child while providing quality care.
Meet the Team
Our body, interventional, and neuroradiologists are board certified in the interpretation of CT scans. We also have specialized radiologists who work closely with cardiologists to evaluate complex congenital heart disease on CT.
What to Expect
The typical age range for sedation is 6 months to 8 years old. Click here to learn more about sedation.
Allergy information will be discussed with the CT technologist or nurse at the time of the CT examination. If your child has a known contrast material allergy, you should inform your doctor prior to the exam so that appropriate preparation can be made.
You should also inform your doctor of any recent illnesses or other medical conditions your child may have, and if there is a history of heart disease, asthma, diabetes, kidney disease or thyroid problems. Any of these conditions may influence the decision on whether contrast material will be given to your child for the CT examination.
Your child may need to be sedated depending on their age. You must be with your child to give your consent, and you can stay in the room until your child falls asleep. Learn more about sedation and how to prepare for your child's medical imaging procedure. In infants less than 6 months old, examinations can often be performed without sedation, using feeding and swaddling to help the infant sleep through the scan.
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. Images will be available immediately after exam completion for the referring physician to review in the electronic medical record.
If your child is sedated, a nurse will stay with your child until awake. It's normal for your child to sleep up to two hours after medicine is given. Follow any instructions given to you and your child by the sedation nurse.
When your child has a CT scan, they are brought to the room and placed on a table. Most often children lie on their backs, but scans can be done in any position.
A child may go in the machine headfirst or feet first, depending on the body part being pictured. We use “seatbelts” to keep your child secure.
Depending on the CT type, your child may have to hold their breath. The technologist will explain the process, so your child is not surprised and they may do a “practice run” with your child before any scanning. Usually, two sets of pictures are taken with the CT table moving through the scanner each time.
If the CT procedure requires contrast in the veins, an IV will be needed. An IV is started by the nursing staff or the vascular access team. First, to numb the skin, we place a numbing agent into the skin without a needle. This will be done in the nursing room before your child enters the CT room. If your child has central venous access (such as a PICC line or medi-port/Port-a-cath), the technologist will check to make sure it is safe to use for power injection.
If your child needs to drink oral contrast, you may bring any non-dairy or non-carbonated drink like juice or lemonade.
Some CT scans are as short as five seconds and some are longer depending on the body part being scanned. Since images can be looked at right away, the radiologist may check the images before your child is taken off the bed. During this time, it is important your child stays still in case more scans are needed.