CT Scan of the Head
A CT scan is a type of x-ray that uses a computer to make pictures of the inside of the body. In this case, the images are of the head.
CT Scan of the Head
Reasons for Test
A CT scan is done to study the skull, brain, jaw, sinuses, and facial bones. The scan will look for signs of injuries, tumors, infections, or other diseases.
Your doctor may recommend a head CT if you have any of the following symptoms:
Sometimes a chemical (called contrast) is used to help improve the pictures. Complications with contrast are rare. If you are planning to have a CT scan with contrast, your doctor will review a list of possible complications. These may include:
- Allergic reaction
- Kidney failure
Be sure to discuss these risks with your doctor before the test.
What to Expect
Prior to Test
Your doctor may instruct you to:
- Avoid eating or drinking anything for four hours before the test if contrast will be used.
- Remove any metal objects (eg, jewelry, hearing aids, dentures).
Description of the Test
In some cases, contrast is needed. It helps make certain organs and tissues more visible on the images. It will be injected into a vein.
You will be positioned on a special moving table. The table will advance slowly through the CT scanner. You will need to be still during the entire test. If you have a hard time with this, the technician may need to use a device to keep your head still. As the scanner takes pictures, you will hear humming and clicking. You will be able to talk to the technician via an intercom.
If you had contrast, you may be told to drink extra fluid. This will flush the contrast from your body.
How Long Will It Take?
About 10-60 minutes
Will It Hurt?
You may feel flushed if you received contrast. You may notice a salty or metallic taste in your mouth. You may also feel nauseous.
The CT images will be sent to a radiologist who will analyze them. Your doctor will receive the results and discuss them with you.
Call Your Doctor
If you receive contrast, call your doctor if any of the following occurs after the test:
- Swollen, itchy eyes
- Tightness of throat
- Difficulty breathing
American Cancer Society
Radiological Society of North America
Canadian Association of Radiologists
Canadian Radiation Protection Association
CT scan. Mayo Clinic website. Available at: http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/ct-scan/FL00065. Accessed on October 20, 2007.
Medical encyclopedia: cranial CT scan. National Library of Medicine, MedlinePlus website. Available at: http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/003786.htm. Updated December 2008. Accessed September 27, 2009.
Zater BL. Yale University School of Medicine Patient's Guide to Medical Tests. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin;1997.
Last reviewed September 2009 by
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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