CT Scan of the Abdomen: About This Test

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What is it?

Organs of the abdomen

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 abdomen (belly) can give your doctor information about your liver, pancreas, kidneys, and other structures in your belly.

During the test, you will lie on a table that is attached to the CT scanner. The CT scanner is a large doughnut-shaped machine.

Why is this test done?

A CT scan of the belly can help find problems such as kidney stones, infected pouches in the colon (diverticulitis), and appendicitis. It also helps find tumours and abscesses.

How can you prepare for the test?

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

  • You are or might be pregnant.
  • You are allergic to any medicines.
  • You have diabetes.
  • You take metformin.
  • You are breastfeeding.
  • You get nervous in confined spaces. You may need medicine to help you relax.
  • You have had an X-ray test using barium contrast material in the past 4 days.

You may be asked to not eat any solid foods starting the night before your scan.

What happens before the test?

  • You may have to take off jewellery.
  • You will take off all or most of your clothes and change into a gown. If you do leave some clothes on, make sure you take everything out of your pockets.
  • You may have contrast material (dye) put into your arm through a tube called an IV. Or, you may drink the contrast material or it may be put through a tube into your bladder or rectum. Contrast material helps doctors see specific organs, blood vessels, and most tumours.

What happens during the test?

  • You will lie on a table that is 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 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 be watching you through a window and talking with you during the test.

What else should you know about the test?

  • A CT scan does not hurt.
  • If a dye is used, you may feel a quick sting or pinch when the IV is started. The dye may make you feel warm and flushed and give you a metallic taste in your mouth. Some people feel sick to their stomach or get a headache.
  • If you breastfeed and are concerned about whether the dye 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 prefer, you can store some of your breast milk ahead of time and use it for a day or two after the test.
  • The dose of radiation from a CT scanner may be higher than that from other X-ray tests. If you are concerned about the radiation risk, talk to your doctor.

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 happens after the test?

  • You will probably be able to go home right away.
  • You can go back to your usual activities right away.
  • Drink plenty of fluids for 24 hours after the test if dye was used, unless your doctor tells you 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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