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

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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 can 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?

  • Your child will take off jewellery and glasses.
  • The doctor may give your child medicine to help him or her relax and stay still for the test.
  • Your child may have contrast dye put into his or her arm through a tube called an IV. Contrast dye helps doctors see blood vessels and other structures in the head.

What happens during the test?

  • Your child will lie on a table that is attached to the CT scanner.
  • The table will slide into the round opening of the scanner. The scanner moves inside the casing around your child. The table moves 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. Your child 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 the 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 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?

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

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