The CT or “CAT” scan displays bones and soft tissues in the body. The abbreviation “CAT” stands for Computer Assisted Tomography. Upon the doctor desiring further tests, X-rays are taken and then interpreted by a powerful computer that makes them appear as “slices” through the body. 

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The doctors at the Southwest Scoliosis and Spine Institute use CT scans as a valuable tool to diagnose a wide range of conditions, including broken bones, cancer, heart disease, stroke, and injuries. 

Computer Assisted Tomography (CT)

Upon your doctor examining you to determine what part of the body your pain emanates from, he or she may decide to use a CT scan or Computer Assisted Tomography (CAT) to further examine the inside of your body.  For example, the CT scan will gather additional information in order for your doctor to determine your diagnosis and formulate a treatment plan to bring the very best health care to you.

Female patient in CT scannerThe Computerized tomography (CT) scan provides an X-ray beam that displays bones and soft tissues in the body.  However, these X-rays get treated differently as they are interpreted by a powerful computer that makes them appear as “slices or cross-sections” through the body.  Also, special software can combine these images into a three-dimensional view of the bones. As such, the image will show soft tissues, blood vessels, and bones of whichever section of the body undergoes the scan. Sometimes your physician may order a CT with and without contrast. For this type of CT, the technician will inject contrast material into the patient’s IV in order to obtain very clear pictures.

Questions and Answers

What is a CT Scan

A CT scan, also known as a computed tomography scan, provides a diagnostic imaging procedure that uses X-rays and computer technology to create detailed cross-sectional images of the body. It produces a series of images, or slices, that provide a three-dimensional view of the scanned area. CT scans are commonly used to visualize internal structures such as the brain, chest, abdomen, and pelvis, allowing healthcare professionals to detect and diagnose various medical conditions.

How is a CT Scan performed

During a CT scan, the patient lies on a table that moves through a doughnut-shaped machine called a CT scanner. The scanner emits a narrow beam of X-rays that rotate around the body, capturing multiple images from different angles. These images are then processed by a computer to create detailed cross-sectional slices. In some cases, a contrast dye enhances the visibility of certain tissues or blood vessels. The entire procedure ranges from a few minutes to half an hour, depending on the area being scanned.

Are there any risks or side effects of a CT Scan

While CT scans are generally safe, they do involve exposure to ionizing radiation, which carries a small potential risk of developing cancer over time. However, the benefits of an accurate diagnosis often outweigh the risks associated with radiation exposure. Additionally, steps are taken to minimize radiation dose, such as using low-dose protocols and tailoring the scan to the specific clinical need. Allergic reactions to contrast dye can occur but are relatively rare. The patient should advise the technician of any known allergies or kidney problems before the scan. Pregnant women are generally advised to avoid CT scans unless the benefits outweigh the potential risks to the fetus.

Why Conduct a Computer-Assisted Tomography?

The “slices” produced by a CT scan allow the examination of separate sections of the spine.  For example, the images show details of spine bones in great detail.  A CT scan can show if bone spurs are pushing against spinal nerve roots.  It provides an excellent view when looking at fractures or damaged bones due to infection or cancer. doctors also use It to diagnose osteoporosis in the spine.

How to Conduct a CT Scan

You will lie on a table that slides into the CT scanner. The scanner looks like a big circle and the patient goes in the middle of the circle.  The patient will need to lie very still for short periods while the scanner takes many pictures.  When the scan starts you will hold your breath during the scan. This helps to make the image as clear as possible. The procedure takes about 20-60 minutes. The scanner utilizes ionizing radiation to make the image.

The Benefits 

CT scans offer numerous benefits in medical imaging. Firstly, they provide highly detailed and cross-sectional images of the body, allowing healthcare professionals to visualize internal structures with exceptional clarity. This level of detail helps in diagnosing and evaluating complex conditions involving the brain, spine, chest, abdomen, and pelvis. The images obtained from CT scans can help identify tumors, abnormalities, fractures, infections, and other conditions, enabling accurate diagnosis and treatment planning.

Secondly, CT scans work quickly and are non-invasive procedures. The scanning process itself typically takes only a few minutes, minimizing patient discomfort and anxiety. Additionally, CT scans assist patients who cannot remain still, as the scan only takes seconds. This efficiency makes CT scans highly valuable in emergency situations, allowing rapid assessment of trauma cases and critical conditions. Moreover, CT scans are non-invasive, meaning they do not require any surgical incisions or injections, thus reducing the associated risks and complications compared to invasive procedures.

In summary, the benefits of CT scans lie in their ability to produce detailed and precise images of the body, facilitating accurate diagnoses and treatment plans. The speed and non-invasive nature of CT scans contribute to patient comfort and make them particularly useful in emergency situations. Overall, CT scans revolutionized medical imaging, playing a crucial role in modern healthcare for a wide range of conditions and providing valuable insights for healthcare professionals.

The Limitations

The CT scan does not show muscles or ligaments clearly.  To make the nerves and soft tissues easier to see, this test can work with a myelogram.  With the myelogram, a technician will cause the dye to enter the spinal sac.  This will allow an outline of the nerves and spinal sac so they show up clearly on the images.  A CAT scan without dye does not identify the discs and the nerves of the spine.  The CT scan was developed before magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).  The pictures of soft tissues are not as clear as they are with an MRI.  The MRI shows problems within the disc, particularly a recurring disc herniation. It also shows the health of a disc following surgery.

The Risks

The CAT scan uses X-rays. In large doses, the amount of radiation from X-rays can increase the risk of cancer.  The vast majority of patients who undergo a CT scan will never get enough radiation to worry about cancer.  Only patients who must take large numbers of X-rays or hundreds of CT scans over many years need to worry about radiation.  A lead blanket will cover reproductive areas for Children and young adults who plan to marry and raise a family. It simply protects these areas by shielding them from the radiation.

For contrasting CTs, technicians need to know if a person is allergic to the contrast material which contains iodine. If a patient is allergic to Iodine, please let your doctor know so he can plan accordingly. If you are pregnant, your doctor may recommend another exam. However the American College of Radiology does recommend that pregnant women should consider another type of exam if possible, such as an MRI or ultrasound.

If you or a loved one suffers from spinal pain, you owe it to yourself to call Southwest Scoliosis and Spine Institute at 214-556-0555 to make an appointment.