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CT Scan of the Abdomen: 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 abdomen (belly) can give your doctor information about your child's liver, pancreas, intestines, kidneys, and other structures in the belly.

During the test, your child will lie on a 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 what's causing pain or fever or a mass in the belly. It can also show how severe an injury is. 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 child has had an X-ray test using barium contrast material in the past 4 days.
  • Your teen is or may be pregnant or is breastfeeding.

You may be asked not to give your child any solid food starting the night before the scan.

What happens before the test?

  • Your child will take off any jewellery and most or all clothing. He or she will get a gown to wear. If your child leaves some clothes on, make sure everything is out of the pockets.
  • The doctor may give your child medicine to help him or her relax and stay still for the test.
  • Your child may get a contrast material (dye). Depending on the reason for the scan, your child may get the dye in a drink or through a tube in his or her arm called an IV. Contrast dye moves through the bloodstream and helps doctors see organs, blood vessels, and other structures in the body. The dye leaves the body in urine.

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 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.
  • There is a small chance of getting cancer from some types of CT scans. The risk is higher in children, young adults, and people who have many radiation tests. If you are concerned about this risk, talk to your doctor about the benefits and risks of a CT scan and confirm that the test is needed.
  • 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.

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 takes only a few minutes.

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?

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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.