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CT Scan of the Cervical Spine: About This Test

Cervical vertebrae

What is it?

A CT (computed tomography) scan uses X-rays to make detailed pictures of your body and structures inside your body. A CT scan of the cervical spine can give your doctor information about the spine and vertebrae in your neck (cervical spine).

Why is this test done?

A CT scan of the cervical spine can help find problems such as infection, tumours, and breaks in the cervical spine. It also can help diagnose narrowing of the spinal canal (spinal stenosis) and a herniated disc in the cervical spine.

How do you prepare for the test?

In general, there's nothing you have to do before this test, unless your doctor tells you to.

Tell your doctor if you get nervous in tight spaces. You may get a medicine to help you relax. If you think you'll get this medicine, be sure you have someone to take you home.

How is the test done?

  • You may have contrast material (dye) put into your arm through a tube called an IV.
  • You will lie on a table that is attached to the CT scanner.
  • The table will slide into the round opening of the scanner. The table will move during the scan. The scanner will move inside the doughnut-shaped casing around your body.
  • You will be asked to hold still during the scan. You may be asked to hold your breath for short periods.
  • You may be alone in the scanning room. But a technologist will watch you through a window and talk with you during the test.

How long does the test take?

The test will take about 30 to 60 minutes. Most of this time is spent getting ready for the scan. The actual test only takes a few minutes.

What are the risks of a CT scan of the spine?

The chance of a CT scan causing a problem is small.

  • There is a chance of an allergic reaction to the contrast material.
  • If you breastfeed and are concerned about whether the contrast material used in this test is safe, talk to your doctor. Most experts believe that very little dye passes into breast milk and even less is passed on to the baby. But if you are concerned, you can stop breastfeeding for up to 24 hours after the test. During this time, you can give your baby breast milk that you stored before the test. Don't use the breast milk you pump in the 24 hours after the test. Throw it out.
  • There is a small chance of an infection at the needle site on your spine or bleeding into the space around the spinal cord.
  • There is a risk of damage to cells or tissue from being exposed to radiation, including the small amounts used in CTs, X-rays, and other medical tests. Over time, exposure to radiation may cause cancer and other health problems. But in most cases, the risk of getting cancer from being exposed to small amounts of radiation is low. It is not a reason to avoid these tests for most people.

What happens after the test?

  • You will probably be able to go home right away.
  • You can go back to your usual activities right away.
  • If dye was used, drink lots of liquids for 24 hours after the test, unless your doctor says not to.

When should you call for help?

Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor or nurse call line if you have any problems.

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse call line if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to keep a list of the medicines you take. Ask your doctor when you can expect to have your test results.

Where can you learn more?

Go to https://www.healthwise.net/patientEd

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Care instructions adapted under license by your healthcare professional. If you have questions about a medical condition or this instruction, always ask your healthcare professional. Healthwise, Incorporated disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information.