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CT Scan of the Chest: About Your Child's Test

What is it?

A CT (computed tomography) scan uses X-rays to make detailed pictures of structures inside your child's body. A CT scan of the chest can give your doctor information about your child's lungs, heart, and other structures in the chest.

During the test, your child will lie on a moving table that is attached to the CT scanner. The CT scanner is a large doughnut-shaped machine. The table will move in and out of the centre of the machine during the scan.

If you are not pregnant, you can stay in the room with your child during the test. You will wear an apron that protects your body from X-rays.

Why is this test done?

A CT scan can help find problems such as:

  • A chest injury.
  • A mass in the chest.
  • A lung infection.
  • A heart defect.

Your doctor may order a CT scan if an earlier ultrasound test didn't show enough detail about the cause of the problem.

How can you prepare for the test?

Talk to your doctor about all your child's health conditions before the test. For example, tell your doctor if:

  • Your child is allergic to any medicines.
  • Your child has diabetes.
  • Your child is taking metformin.
  • Your teen is or may be pregnant or is breastfeeding.

What happens during the test?

  • The table your child is lying on will slide into the round opening of the scanner. The scanner will move inside the casing around your child's body. The table will move while the scanner takes pictures. Your child may hear a clicking or buzzing as the table and scanner move.
  • Your child will be asked to lie still during the scan and may be asked to hold his or her breath for short periods.
  • A technologist will be watching through a window and talking with your child during the test.

What else should you know about the test?

  • A CT scan does not hurt.
  • The table your child lies on may feel hard and the room may be cool.
  • If the contrast dye is injected through an IV, your child may feel a quick sting or pinch when the IV is started. The dye may make your child feel warm and flushed and may cause a metallic taste in his or her mouth. Some people feel sick to their stomach or get a headache. The technician will watch for this and give help if needed.

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 scan only takes a few minutes.

What are the risks of the test?

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

  • There is a chance of an allergic reaction to the contrast material.
  • 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.
  • If your teen is breastfeeding and is concerned about whether the dye used in this test is safe, she should talk to her doctor. Most experts believe that very little dye passes into breast milk and even less is passed on to the baby. But if your teen prefers, she can store some of her breast milk ahead of time and use it for a day or two after the test.

What happens after the test?

  • Your child may be able to go home and go back to his or her usual activities right away, depending on why the test was done and the results.

Follow-up care is a key part of your child's treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse call line if your child is having problems. It's also a good idea to know your child's test results and keep a list of the medicines your child takes.

Where can you learn more?

Go to

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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.