What You Need to Know Before Getting a CAT Scan

The prospect of having a CAT scan can be a scary thing, depending on the reasons the doctors feel one is necessary. The CAT scan itself is a relatively simple procedure. You may have seen one performed on television or in movies; a scene depicting a man or woman being slowly guided into a large tubelike mechanism as they lie prone on a bed, while a scanner glides across the inside of the tube, reading information from their body.

There is a bit more to it than that, and if you find that you will be undergoing the procedure in the near future, there are a few things you might want to be aware of to avoid any unpleasant surprises.

The purpose of a computerized axial tomography scan (CAT scan for short) is to use x-ray technology to provide the radiologist with a series of cross-section and 3D images of the internal structure of the body from a multitude of different angles. Each highly detailed image, accurately depicting bones, organs, and your general anatomy, is called a tomogram. The radiologist then uses these images produced by the CAT scan to help to properly diagnose and identify symptoms that may be causing pain, such as head trauma, locate tumors or infections, or measure bone density, among other irregularities in the body.

Essentially, the large machine is a giant x-ray, and the CAT scan procedure is painless and non-invasive, though it can be somewhat disconcerting, and mildly claustrophobic.

To prepare you for a CAT scan, the radiologist will first give you two large bottles of liquid to consume within the few hours before your CAT scan. This liquid is not harmful; it is an x-ray dye that spreads throughout your spinal fluid to help enhance
the images of the CAT scan. It is foul-tasting and slightly thick, and so drinking the two full containers can be somewhat of a chore. If you so choose, you can have the dye injected intravenously or with the aid of an enema.

Additionally, you are not allowed to eat, drink, or smoke within a certain time period before your CAT scan, so it is best to schedule one as early as possible. When you do arrive for your CAT scan, in addition to having drunk the x-ray dye, you will be given an injection of an iodine-based solution as a second means to enhance the CAT scan images, this time focusing on organ and blood vessel structure.

When you receive this injection, you will typically feel a warm sensation throughout the body, and other subtle side-effects can sometimes occur, such as itching or a rash, but aside from that, the injection is harmless, and the radiologist will have antihistamines to help reverse any side-effects if necessary.

Clothing and any metal jewelry will need to be removed because it can interfere with the CAT scan. You will then lie down on a table, which can be slid gently into the enclosure of the machine. Then the procedure begins, which can vary in length, ranging from thirty minutes to an hour and thirty minutes, depending on the specific images needed by the radiologist. During this time, you will need to lie as still as possible in order for the CAT scan to produce clear images.

Because of the size of the machine used to conduct the CAT scan, you may be concerned about the levels of radiation used. The actual amount is very minimal and poses no risk, except for the possibility of a potential risk to a fetus in a pregnant woman. If you are pregnant, you should consult your physicians about other options.

The CAT scan is an excellent tool for providing diagnoses, and is painless, and certainly nothing to fear if it can help locate and diagnose any symptoms you may have.

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