Computed Tomography/CT Scan (Pediatric)

What is a computed tomography (CT) scan?

While an X-ray uses a single beam of radiation to create an image of the body, a Computed tomography (CT) uses a series of beams and makes multiple images. A software program then combines them, providing a 3-D view of the area of your child's anatomy that is under study.

A CT scan may be used to evaluate child’s organs, bones, soft tissue, or blood vessels. This test is also referred to as "computerized tomography" or "computed axial tomography" (CAT). Our highly skilled pediatric radiologists use this type of imaging to

  • Help diagnose disease, trauma, or abnormalities
  • Plan and guide treatment
  • Monitor the effectiveness of therapy for diseases like cancer

What should I expect?

The CT scanner is shaped like a very large donut. It contains both a source of the x-ray beams and a detector that feeds the X-ray images into the computer. Your child will lie down on a motorized table during this test. That table then slides through the donut.

As the table moves, the scanner rotates, collecting images from many different angles. The computer translates these individual "snapshots" into cross-sectional images (slices) of the internal organs and tissues.

Certain CT exams may require a contrast agent to obtain a clearer picture. This agent will be given to your child intravenously by mouth before we begin the scan.

How should I help my child get ready for the test?

  • If your child is having a CT of the abdomen or pelvis with contrast, you will come to the hospital approximately two hours before the test, so we have time to administer the contract agent.
  • If your child will be given a contrast agent intravenously, make sure no food is consumed for at least two hours before the exam.
  • Be sure your child wears comfortable clothing on the day of the test. He or she may be asked to change into a gown before we begin the scan.

What will happen during the test?

A CT exam is usually quick and painless. The following things may happen before you enter the exam room:

If your child is having a CT scan with intravenous contrast, we will insert an IV in the hand or arm. Your child may feel a warm, flush or notice a slight unpleasant taste in the mouth, within the first few minutes. This is normal.

Occasionally a child develops itching and hives from the contrast; these symptoms can be relieved with medication.

Rarely a child becomes light-headed or has difficulty breathing. If this happens, notify a nurse immediately, as these may be signs of a severe allergic reaction.

If your child is being sedated for the exam, we will give that medication through an IV.

During the CT exam, your child will lie on his or her back and be positioned on the CT table. As the table slides into the scanner a red light may shine. This helps us ensure that the body is properly positioned.

We use the most up-to-date CT scanners, which make only a slight buzzing and clicking sound.

The CT technologist performs the scan from an adjoining room, but is able to see, hear, and speak with your child at all times.

Your child will be asked to hold very still, and may also need to hold the breath a few times during the scan. Any type of movement will result in fuzzy images and the test may have to be repeated.

A CT scan usually takes between five to 15 minutes.

What can I do to help my child during the test?

Because young children sometimes find the CT scanner a bit intimidating, we encourage you to stay in the exam room offering comfort and reassurance. If you choose to do so, you will be given a lead apron to shield your body from unnecessary radiation.

We can also made child life specialist available to help your child feel more at ease during this procedure.

Are there any risks?

CT exams use more radiation than conventional X-rays because the image is made from many beams. However, the risk is small and the benefits are a more accurate diagnosis and treatment. As noted, a few children have a mild reaction to the intravenous contrast agent.

What happens after the test?

Your child can resume normal activities right away. If sedation was used, however, you will be asked to remain with us until you child is reasonably alert.

Our pediatric radiologist will analyze the CT images and your child’s physician will explain results. In some cases, the radiologist may discuss any findings when the exam is finished.