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Abdominal CT scan

  • Definition

    An abdominal CT scan is an imaging method that uses x-rays to create cross-sectional pictures of the belly area. CT stands for computed tomography.

    See also: CT scan

    Alternative Names

    Computed tomography scan - abdomen; CT scan - abdomen; CAT scan - abdomen

    How the test is performed

    You will be asked to lie on a narrow table that slides into the center of the CT scanner. Usually, you will lie on your back with your arms raised above the head.

    Once you are inside the scanner, the machine's x-ray beam rotates around you. (Modern "spiral" scanners can perform the exam without stopping.)

    A computer creates separate images of the belly area, called slices. These images can be stored, viewed on a monitor, or printed on film. Three-dimensional models of the belly area can be created by stacking the slices together.

    You must be still during the exam, because movement causes blurred images. You may be told to hold your breath for short periods of time.

    The scan should takes less then 30 minutes.

    How to prepare for the test

    Certain exams require a special dye, called contrast, to be delivered into the body before the test starts. Contrast helps certain areas show up better on the x-rays.

    • Contrast can be given through a vein (IV) in your hand or forearm. If contrast is used, you may also be asked not to eat or drink anything for 4-6 hours before the test.
    • Let your doctor know if you have ever had a reaction to contrast. You may need to take medications before the test in order to safely receive this substance.
    • Before receiving the contrast, tell your health care provider if you take the diabetes medication metformin (Glucophage) because you may need to take extra precautions.

    If you weigh more than 300 pounds, find out if the CT machine has a weight limit. Too much weight can cause damage to the scanner's working parts.

    You will be asked to remove jewelry and wear a hospital gown during the study.

    How the test will feel

    Some people may have discomfort from lying on the hard table.

    Contrast given through a vein (IV) may cause a slight burning sensation, a metallic taste in the mouth, and a warm flushing of the body. These sensations are normal and usually go away within a few seconds.

    Why the test is performed

    An abdominal CT rapidly creates detailed pictures of the structures inside the belly area (abdomen).

    This test may help detect or diagnose:

    • The cause of abdominal pain or swelling
    • Hernia
    • The cause of a fever
    • Masses and tumors, including cancer
    • Infections or injury
    • Kidney stones
    • Appendicitis