A CT scan is one of the many diagnostic tests you can get at an imaging center. This procedure is minimally invasive, safe and painless for most patients. It does not require much preparation, but it is helpful to understand how to prepare for a CT scan with contrast. This guide will provide all the information you need, so you know what to expect.
What Is a CT Scan?
A computerized tomography (CT) scan is a diagnostic test that involves creating cross-sectional images of selected parts of the body through rotating X-ray machines and computers. Medical professionals use CT scans to diagnose disease and assess injuries. This testing provides a more detailed image than standard X-rays to give doctors a more accurate diagnosis. The results could show a patient’s bones, soft tissues and blood vessels.
The test may require barium sulfate, a contrast that distinguishes the intestines, esophagus or stomach from similar structures in the body. A CT scan is minimally invasive and safe. The length of the procedure depends on what part of the body the radiologist is testing.
Procedures requiring oral contrast involve two hours of prep time. If your physician prescribes you a CT scan with oral contrast, you can drink it at home instead of waiting in the office. The test itself only takes a few minutes. If you do not need an oral contrast, the examination will take about a half-hour.
What Is the Prep for a CT Scan?
CT scan procedure preparation depends on whether you need contrast for your examination. You may have to drink this special dye before your CT scan or have it given to you intravenously. After you take the oral contrast, tell your doctor if you experience any allergic reactions.
Follow these CT scan prep tips.
- Fast a few hours before the CT scan: Avoid eating or drinking anything for a few hours before your examination. Your doctor may recommend that you not eat any solid foods starting the night before your exam if you have a CT scan of your abdomen. You may also get a laxative before the test. You could become nauseated if you have solid foods in your stomach and get an IV of the contrast. This discomfort can cause vomiting while lying down, which might lead to aspiration.
- Tell your doctor if you are pregnant: Let your doctor know if you are pregnant or might be pregnant. Even though the radiation exposure from a CT scan is minimal, it could be harmful to your growing baby, especially during the first trimester. Your doctor may recommend another diagnostic testing that poses less of a risk to you and your baby.
- Make arrangements for breastfeeding: If you are breastfeeding, you need to use formula for up to two days after your procedure if you get an oral or intravenous contrast so that you do not pass the dye to your baby. You could also freeze your breast milk before preparing for your procedure to have enough supply for the two days you cannot breastfeed.
- Be honest about your preexisting conditions: Tell your doctor if you are allergic to any medication or if you have any heart conditions, kidney problems, thyroid problems, asthma or diabetes. Any of these medical conditions could affect your reaction to the contrast or the radiation. If you have diabetes and have a history of kidney failure, do not take any diabetes medication 48 hours before your exam. You are free to take any other medicines.
- Express any concerns or fears you have: Feel free to ask your doctor any questions about your procedure to ease your stress. Keep in mind that you have to stay still inside the CT scanner. If you get nervous in small spaces, the doctor could give you a sedative to help you relax. In that case, you would have to arrange for someone to take you home, so you do not drive with the sedative in your system.
What Happens During a CT Scan?
A radiology technologist usually performs a CT scan. Depending on which part of the body they will examine, you may need to take off some or all your clothes and wear a hospital gown. You will lie down on a table secured to the CT scanner, a round machine with an opening in the middle. The table slides into the scanner’s round opening, and the scanner moves around your body as it takes pictures.
You can expect the following during your procedure.
- Remain still: You will need to keep still during the test to ensure your pictures do not come out blurry. The technologist may ask you to hold your breath for a few seconds to keep you from moving your chest. You might feel some discomfort from keeping your body in one position for several minutes. You can request a mild sedative if the idea of sitting still is stressful to you.
- Injecting contrast: If you need contrast injected into your veins, you might feel a slight pinch as the technologist inserts the needle into your vein. You may also feel a warm, flushed sensation and have a metallic taste in your mouth for a few minutes. Let the technologist know if you develop hives or a rash, feel lightheaded or have trouble breathing after receiving the IV.
- Taking pictures: Even though you will be alone in the exam room, the technologist is in the room right next to you. They can speak with you, see you and hear you during the CT scan. After they take the necessary images, they send the pictures to a radiologist, who writes the report.
What Can I Expect After My CT Scan?
Your doctor may give you specific instructions to follow after the procedure. After you have completed the CT scan and the technologist has all the information they need, you may exit the facility and resume your daily activities as usual. You may want to drink plenty of liquids over the next day to get the contrast out of your system.
The doctor might want to monitor you if your procedure involved contrast to ensure you do not have any adverse reactions to the dye. Notify your doctor if you have any pain, redness or swelling at the IV site, which could signal an infection.
After the radiologist assesses the images from your examination, they will send a signed report to your referring physician. You will have a follow-up appointment with your doctor, where you will review the results and develop a plan for any necessary treatment.
Schedule Your CT Scan With Impression Imaging
Impression Imaging’s mission is to give patients in South Florida the highest-quality care. Our team of radiologists specializes in many types of diagnostic testing, including CT scans. If your doctor recommended that you get a CT scan, request an appointment online or call (954) 580-2780.