I need a CT scan - what does it involve?

16 January 2018

Diagnostic technology has evolved to deliver images of the bodies inside to such high definition that some exploratory surgery is now unnecessary. Helen Culling asks Vicki Tinkler, Radiology Manager at Spire Norwich Hospital, to clarify some of the fundamentals.


The CT (Computerised Tomography) scanner was originally designed by British engineer, Sir Godfrey Newbold Hounsfield CBE, perhaps more commonly known for his work with EMI (a huge family of record labels) during the booming 1950s and 1960s. Following the success of some of the World’s biggest bands, including The Beatles, the unexpected windfall of cash aided the funding for the new developments of the first CT scanner.


Sir Godfrey Newbold Hounsfield CBE set to work constructing a computer that could input X-ray images at various angles to create an image of the object in "slices". The slices could later be electronically spliced together to offer a three-dimensional image. Impressively, these images are areas or organs of your body’s inside, taken (with a CT scan) from the outside. The number of slices can be critical to the eventual image quality, the more slices, the better the eventual image.  Spire Norwich Hospital previously used a four slice scanner and many of these scanners are mobile converted lorries and visited by patients in a car park close to a clinic or hospital. The results from this type of scanner are extremely good for many imaging requirements.  Spire’s on-site CT scanner was the first private sector 64 slice scanner in East Anglia and currently offers a five day a week service to patients.


So what does a scan involve?

Radiology Manager at Spire Norwich Hospital Vicki Tinkler explains “As with most new and modern technology, you don’t need to do too much. Simply lie back on a comfortable couch and relax - the couch will move you to the correct position. If like me, you’re not overly keen on small spaces, don’t worry.  The scanner has a large ring at the end rather than a tunnel so you won’t be enclosed. It may be necessary to drink some fluid or have an injection to help enhance the image quality (these fluids are harmlessly removed from the blood by your kidneys and passed out in your urine) your Radiographer will take you through this at your appointment.  During your CT scan your Radiographer will operate the scanner from behind a window, and he or she will be able to see, hear, and speak to you during the procedure. It can take several minutes for each image to form and it’s important to lie very still during the process.”


“Once the image has been taken and reconstructed a specialist Consultant Radiologist will report their clinical findings to your referring consultant or GP. Thereafter, any findings can be discussed with you one-to-one.  A whole range of images can be undertaken and as CT is, a less invasive accurate tool, it can help to quickly confirm your clinician’s preliminary diagnosis.  One of the worse parts of a health scare can be waiting to find out whether you actually have anything to worry about. This is why the scanner is open to both insured and self-funding patients and on receipt of a GP or consultant referral, we can typically see patients within five to seven days."


Over the past three decades, CT has made significant improvements in speed, patient comfort, and image resolution. Today, CT scans are used to image bone as well as soft tissues.


Vicki continues “The CT scanner is capable of advanced cardiac imaging including the coronary arteries. Commonly we use CT to scan patient’s heads as they are an effective method of checking the brain for any abnormalities including bleeding or swelling of the arteries. They are also useful for investigating the brain following a stroke."


“CT scans of the chest and abdomen offer an ideal imaging tool to visualise internal organs including the liver, kidneys, pancreas, intestines or lungs assisting with diagnosis as CT can tell the difference between normal and abnormal tissue. It can also be used to plan areas for radiotherapy treatments and as a guide for taking tissue samples and needle biopsies. CT is also used to demonstrate and assess vascular (veins/arteries) conditions to different parts of the body. Injuries and disease to bones and joints can also be assessed using CT with its advanced 3D reconstruction capabilities.  This is a great advantage for consultants when planning treatment, such as reconstructive surgery."


Vicki concludes “You must remember that CT scans involve exposure to radiation in the form of X-rays. The level of radiation used is kept to a minimum but unnecessary exposure to radiation is not recommended.  You would generally have a scan because your consultant or GP needs to confirm and investigate their diagnosis before any treatment or medical intervention.  Therefore, your specialist consultant or GP will decide if it is appropriate for you to have a CT scan."


For further information on CT scanning contact one of the team on 01603 255 531 or visit www.spirenorwich.com and look for diagnostic imaging.

For further information about Colney Radiology Group please log-on to www.crg-uk.com.


The content of this page is provided for general information only. It should not be treated as a substitute for the professional medical advice of your doctor or other healthcare professional.

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