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

What is it?

A CT (computed tomography) scan uses X-rays to make detailed pictures of structures inside the body. A CT scan of the head can give your doctor information about your child's eyes, bones of the face and nose, inner ear, and brain.

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 aren't 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 of the head can help find the cause of headaches or look for fractures or bleeding after a head injury.

How do you prepare for the test?

Talk to your doctor about all of 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 before the test?

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.
  • Your child may have contrast materials (dye) put into an IV in the arm. In some cases, your child may have to drink a contrast material. It helps doctors see specific organs and blood vessels and most tumours.
  • The doctor may give your child medicine to help him or her relax and stay still for the test.

During the test

  • Your child will lie on a table that's attached to the CT scanner.
  • The table slides into the round opening of the scanner. The table will move during the scan. The scanner moves within the doughnut-shaped casing around your child's body.
  • Your child will be asked to hold still during the scan. And your child may be asked to hold his or her breath for short periods. You may need to help your child do these things.
  • Your child will be kept safe and comfortable during the test. You may be able to stay in the room with your child. A technologist will watch through a window and talk 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 takes only 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 the reason for and the results of the test.
  • Have your child drink plenty of fluids for 24 hours after the test if contrast dye was used, unless your doctor tells you not to. The fluids will help clear the contrast dye out of your child's body through urine.

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 keep a list of the medicines your child takes. Ask your doctor when you can expect to have your child's test results.

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.