CT Scan (Computed Tomography Scan)

A computed tomography imaging exam (CT scan) is a test that uses special X-ray equipment and computers. This technology makes detailed, cross-sectional pictures of organs and bones. It is a painless way for doctors to see inside the body. CHOC radiologists use specialized, pediatric expertise and state-of-the-art equipment to interpret the CT scan pictures to help diagnose problems or check the body’s response to treatment.

young girl preparing for CT scan

When is a CT scan needed?

CT helps diagnose a wide range of conditions due to injury or illness such as:

  • Causes of abdominal pain
  • Evaluate injury after trauma
  • Diagnose and stage cancer
  • Monitor response to cancer treatment
  • Diagnose and track infectious or inflammatory disorders

CT can also check blood vessels throughout the body. With CT, it is possible to retrieve detailed pictures of the heart and blood vessels in children, even newborn infants.

What type of CT scan machine does CHOC use?

CHOC is proud to offer our patients the very latest in CT technology. Our scanners deliver low doses of radiation so quickly, that repeat scans are rarely needed. In fact, other hospitals have begun transporting newborns to CHOC for imaging because of these capabilities. This state-of-the-art machine is only found in a handful of children’s hospitals throughout the United States.

Our flash CT scan machine:

  • Scans the entire body in less than 5 seconds
  • Uses a very low dose of radiation while producing high-quality images
  • Allows customized scans based on child’s measurements and symptoms and protect dose-sensitive organs

Can a CT scan harm my child?

A CT scan is a safe, noninvasive procedure used to diagnose problems inside a patient’s body. CT scans result in a low-level radiation exposure, which benefits outweigh the risk of harm when diagnosing disease and traumatic injuries.

At CHOC, we received accreditation by the American College of Radiology for MRI, CT and ultrasound. ACR ensures the highest standard of image quality, ongoing oversight by a medical physicist and proper radiation exposure monitoring. When you see the ACR seal, you can rest assured that you receive treatment at a facility that meets the highest level of quality and radiation safety. Since children are more sensitive to radiation, they should have a CT study only if it is essential for making a diagnosis. Children should not have repeated CT studies unless your child’s physician deems it necessary.

What is the preparation for a CT scan?

  • Children should wear loose, comfortable clothing and may bring a “comfort item” to hold during the scan.
  • Depending on the scan ordered by the physician, the child may not eat or drink before the procedure.
  • Lab tests may need to be done before the day of the scan.
  • Depending on the scan ordered by the physician, the child may not eat or drink before the procedure.
  • Our radiology team will contact you one to two days before the appointment with information about your child’s exam.

What if my child gets scared?

While a CT scan is non-invasive and painless, we understand that these machines can be frightening to your child. Our child life specialists help children of all ages feel comfortable and safe. We even have a toy-sized CT machine that can help teach them about the test beforehand. Learn more about our child life specialists and distraction techniques.

How is the CT scan performed?

CT scans are painless, fast and easy. First, it begins with the child lying down on a narrow table. The table slides in and out of a doughnut-shaped hole in the center of the CT scanner. Straps and pillows may be necessary to help the child maintain the position for the exam.
The scan usually takes about 5 to 10 minutes, depending on the part of the body that is being scanned. The child should stay still during the scan, since movement will affect the quality of the images. Many scanners are fast enough to scan children successfully. In special cases, anesthesia may be necessary for children who cannot hold still.

Will my child need contrast?

Some children may require an intravenous contrast material for the scan. Your child’s doctor orders contrast. If contrast is necessary, our team will provide instructions on how to prepare for your child’s test.

Radiologists use the IV contrast to check the blood supply of the studied area. The IV contrast is very safe. Patients take the contrast medication halfway through the procedure. The child may feel a sensation like they have to urinate or a warm flushed sensation after the dye goes into the vein. This is a normal feeling and will subside quickly. There may be some discomfort with the placement of this into the vein.

What happens after the procedure?

In most cases, the child should be able to resume normal activities immediately after the procedure, unless the child’s doctor has instructed otherwise. Children who received anesthesia will rest in the recovery area until the medication wears off. Children who received contrast should drink plenty of fluids to help flush the contrast dye out of the body.

The doctor who ordered the child’s scan will receive a report. Please contact the doctor who ordered the scan for the results.

Why Choose CHOC?

  • CHOC has been designated a Diagnostic Imaging Center of Excellence® (DICOE) by the American College of Radiology (ACR) for best-quality imaging practices and diagnostic care.
  • CHOC uses only board-certified pediatric radiologists and specially trained pediatric radiology technologists, nurses and child life specialists.
  • All radiology staff undergo age-specific training annually to learn how to work and communicate with children of varying ages.
  • We are only one of a few medical centers in the country to have child life specialists working in a dedicated pediatric radiology and imaging department.