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What is a CT Scan & What Can it Reveal?

by | Jan 27, 2021 | Primary Care

CT stands for Commuted Tomography and is a computerized X-ray imaging procedure. It works by aiming a narrow range of X-rays at the patient that are quickly rotated around their body. This process returns signals that are processed by the machine’s computer to reveal images of the body’s cross-sections or ‘slices.’

These slices are called tomographic images and are preferred by doctors looking for more detailed information than can be provided by a conventional X-ray. Once the slices are collected by the computer, they are digitally stacked together to form 3D images of the patient for the location of basic structures as well as tumors, injuries, and other anomalies.

During a CT, you will lie on a bed, and a motorized X-ray scanner will rotate around your body and shoot narrow beams of X-rays through the body. As the X-rays leave the body, their changes are detected and picked up by the scanner’s computers. The image slices obtained can either be displayed individually or stacked to show a 3D image of a patient’s skeleton, organs, tissues, and any other anomalies the doctor may be trying to find.

CT scans are often ordered for patients suspected to have tumors or lesions in the abdomen, heart disease, or brain injuries, clots, and tumors that can cause permanent damage and death. CT scans are also valuable in imaging complex bone fractures, bone tumors, and severely eroded joints as it offers more detail compared to conventional X-rays.

CT Scan Vs. MRI: How Do They Differ?

The biggest difference between CT scans and an MRI is the radiation types they use. While both are used to capture images of the body, a CT scan uses X-rays, while an MRI uses radio waves. Despite the use of these radiations, you should know that they are both low risks.

In an MRI, you will be exposed to a strong magnetic field and radio frequencies, where the latter will bounce off the molecules in your body then get captured by a receiver that will translate them into an image of your body. Just like a CT, an MRI will be used to diagnose problems with your joints, heart, brain, blood vessels, or breasts.

CT scans are less expensive. However, MRIs have superior imaging quality. MRIs are also used for pregnant women to take images of the pelvic region to reduce the risk of exposure to the unborn child. You should let the doctor know if you have artificial joints, an IUD, eye implants, or a pacemaker before getting an MRI.

A CT scan is used for general imaging of cases like head trauma or fracture. The doctor will prefer an MRI if they require a detailed view of problems such as soft tissue problems, torn ligaments, and herniated disks.

lung ct scan

What Is A CT Scan with And Without Contrast?

Contrast is a substance that you take by mouth or injected via an IV to help see the organ in question more clearly. A CT scan of soft tissues may require contrast because these are not able to stop X-rays and are thus not seen as easily.

For your heart, the contrast will be iodine-based to help visualize the blood vessels, while for the gut, you will take a barium-based compound. CT with contrast comes with the risks of an allergic reaction to the medium. You should let your doctor know if you are sensitive to any drugs, have a kidney problem, or are on a drug called Metformin or Glucophage.

If your doctor orders a CT without contrast, you may eat or drink or take any other drugs prior to your procedure. However, for a CT with contrast, you will need to fast 3 hours prior to your procedure. You can take your drugs as usual.

What Does A CT Scan Cost Without Insurance?

CT scan costs vary due to certain factors, such as the facility and your location. The cost ranges between $270 and nearly $5000. The cost is divided into professional fees, which will go to the experts that will interpret the results and technical fees that cover the cost of the equipment repairs and maintenance.

The overhead is the last component of your fees, and it goes into the rent, wages, and utility bills for the facility and is therefore the reason why the cost of a CT varies significantly between cities and smaller towns. To get the best price possible, get as many quotes as you can before settling on one.

How Long Does A CT Scan Take?

The time taken depends on the kind of scan. If you take oral contrast, you will need 45-60 minutes for the medium to move through your gut. If you require IV contrast, you will need 15-30 minutes. The actual contrast will take a few seconds to some minutes.

Since the scan reveals several hundred images, the radiologist will take a while to review them, and your result will be ready in a few days.

If you have more questions about your upcoming CT scan or need to schedule one, please contact us today.

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