A cranial CT scan is a diagnostic tool used to create detailed pictures of features inside your head, such as your skull, brain, paranasal sinuses, ventricles, and eye sockets. CT stands for computed tomography, and this type of scan is also referred to as a CAT scan. A cranial CT scan is known by a variety of names as well, including brain scan, head scan, skull scan, and sinus scan.
A cranial CT scan is a diagnostic tool used to create detailed pictures of features inside your head, such as your skull, brain, paranasal sinuses, ventricles, and eye sockets. CT stands for computed tomography, and this type of scan is also referred to as a CAT scan. A cranial CT scan is known by a variety of names as well, including brain scan, head scan, skull scan, and sinus scan. This procedure is noninvasive, meaning it doesn’t require surgery. It’s usually suggested to investigate various symptoms involving the nervous system before turning to invasive procedures.
A CT scan uses X-rays and computers to make images of the body. It can sometimes help doctors diagnose headaches and their causes. You might need one if you have headaches daily or almost every day or have a sudden onset severe headache. Doctors can’t diagnose migraines with the test, though. How Does a CT Scan Help? The test can help your doctor rule out other causes of your pain, such as: A brain tumor An infection of the brain, called an abscess The buildup of fluid in the brain, a condition called hydrocephalus A sinus blockage Injuries A bulging, weak part of a brain artery, called an aneurysm, or bleeding in the brain Is It Uncomfortable or Dangerous? The test is painless. To get the scan, you’ll lie on a table. You may get a shot of “contrast material” into one of your veins, which will help doctors see parts of your brain more clearly on the image. Be sure to tell the doctor or nurse if you’ve had an allergic reaction to contrast material in the past. Your doctor will also need to check your kidney function before using contrast. The dyes have iodine, which can cause a reaction in some people. The CT scanner uses X-rays, but the amount of radiation you get from them is kept to a minimum. But if you are or think you may be pregnant, let the doctor know — X-rays can be harmful to a growing baby. A child who needs to have a CT scan should get it at a facility that often works with children, so that the lowest possible dose of radiation can be used. How Should I Prepare? Don’t eat anything 4 hours before your test. Keep taking your medications as usual after you check with your doctor. Plan for your test to take at least an hour. Most scans take from 15 to 60 minutes. Ask your doctor any questions you have before the scan. What Happens Before the Test? You may get a drug that will make you feel relaxed and drowsy. You may need to change into a hospital gown, because snaps and zippers in street clothes can interfere with the scan. You also may need to take off your watch, rings, or jewelry. It’s a good idea to leave your valuables, including jewelry, at home.
Side effects and risks for a cranial CT scan involve discomfort, exposure to radiation, and allergic reaction to the contrast dye. Discuss any concerns with your doctor before the test so you can assess the potential risks and benefits for your medical condition. Discomfort The CT scan itself is a painless procedure. Some people feel uncomfortable on the hard table or have difficulty remaining still. You may feel a slight burning when the contrast dye enters your vein. Some people experience a metal taste in their mouths and a warm sensation throughout their bodies. These reactions are normal and generally last less than a minute. Radiation exposure CT scans expose you to some radiation. Doctors generally agree that the risks are low compared to the potential risk of not being diagnosed with a dangerous health problem. The risk from a single scan is small, but it increases if you have many X-rays or CT scans over time. Newer scanners may expose you to less radiation than older models. Tell your doctor if you’re pregnant. Your doctor may be able to avoid exposing your baby to radiation by using other tests. These may include a head MRI scan or ultrasound, which don’t use radiation. Allergic reaction to contrast Tell your doctor before the scan if you’ve ever had an allergic reaction to contrast dye. Contrast dye commonly contains iodine and may cause nausea, vomiting, rash, hives, itching, or sneezing in people who are allergic to iodine. You may be given steroids or antihistamines to help with these symptoms before you receive the dye injection. after the test, you may need to drink extra fluids to help flush the iodine from the body if you have diabetes or kidney disease. In very rare cases, contrast dye can cause anaphylaxis, a whole-body allergic reaction that can be life-threatening. Notify the scanner operator immediately if you have trouble breathing.
The technician will position your child, then step behind a wall or into an adjoining room to operate the machine, viewing your child through a window. The technician will speak to your child through an intercom. You’ll be able to stay in the CAT scan room with your child until the test begins and possibly during the test. If you leave the CAT scan room, you’ll join the technician in the outer room or you might be asked to sit in a waiting room. If you stay with the technician or in the CAT scan room, you’ll be asked to wear a lead apron to protect certain parts of your body.
A cranial CT scanner takes a series of X-rays. A computer then puts these X-ray images together to create detailed pictures of your head. These images help your doctor make a diagnosis. The procedure is usually done in a hospital or outpatient imaging center. It should take only about 15 minutes to complete your scan. On the day of the procedure, you must remove jewelry and other metal objects. They can damage the scanner and interfere with the X-rays. You’ll probably be asked to change into a hospital gown. You’ll lie on a narrow table either face up or face down, depending on the reasons for your CT scan. It’s very important that you remain completely still during the exam. Even a little movement can blur the images. Some people find the CT scanner stressful or claustrophobic. Your doctor may suggest a sedative to keep you calm during the procedure. A sedative will also help keep you still. If your child is having the CT scan, their doctor may recommend a sedative for these same reasons. The table will slowly slide so that your head is inside the scanner. You may be asked to hold your breath for a short period. The scanner’s X-ray beam will rotate around your head, creating a series of images of your head from different angles. The individual images are called slices. Stacking the slices creates three-dimensional images. Images can be seen immediately on a monitor. They will be stored for later viewing and printed. For your security, the CT scanner has a microphone and speakers for two-way communication with the scanner operator.
What is CT Scanning of the Head? Computed tomography, more commonly known as a CT or CAT scan, is a diagnostic medical test that, like traditional x-rays, produces multiple images or pictures of the inside of the body. The cross-sectional images generated during a CT scan can be reformatted in multiple planes, and can even generate three-dimensional images. These images can be viewed on a computer monitor, printed on film or transferred to a CD or DVD. CT images of internal organs, bones, soft tissue and blood vessels provide greater detail than traditional x-rays, particularly of soft tissues and blood vessels. CT scanning provides more detailed information on head injuries, stroke, brain tumors and other brain diseases than regular radiographs (x-rays).
If your daughter is pregnant, it’s important to tell her technician or doctor because there’s a small chance that the radiation from the CAT scan may harm the developing baby. But if the CAT scan is necessary, precautions can be taken to protect the baby.
EAT/DRINK: If your doctor ordered a CT scan without contrast, you can eat, drink and take your prescribed medications prior to your exam. If your doctor ordered a CT scan with contrast, do not eat anything three hours prior to your CT scan. You are encouraged to drink clear liquids. You may also take your prescribed medications prior to your exam.
DIABETICS: Diabetics should eat a light breakfast or lunch three hours prior to the scan time. Depending on your oral medication for diabetes, you may be asked to discontinue use of the medication for 48 hours after the CT scan. If you have a CT scan with Johns Hopkins radiology, detailed instructions will be given following your examination.
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