A computerised tomography (CT) scan is a non-invasive medical test that can help look for signs of inflammation, disease or cancer, and monitor many other health conditions. It uses specialised X-ray equipment and a computer to create images of the inside of your body.
A referral letter from a consultant or GP is required before booking any diagnostic investigation.
A CT scan is a fast and highly effective tool to provide detailed, cross-sectional views of areas of the body that may be hard to reach. Bones, internal organs, soft tissue and the brain can all be viewed in detail on a CT scan to help diagnose inflammation, hip pain, abdominal pain, crepitus, disease and cancer, and to monitor many other health conditions.
Whereas a standard X-ray only sends out one beam to capture an image, during a CT scan several beams of X-ray are sent out at different angles. This creates a much more detailed picture in two or three dimensions.
Your doctor may recommend you have a CT scan to examine your chest and abdomen. Your doctor may also suggest a CT scan to check for cancers, such as breast cancer or bladder cancer. A CT scan can provide clear images of different types of tissue, such as the liver, intestine and kidneys, so can help to identify a range of conditions including pneumonia and kidney tears.
CT scans are used to identify abnormal tissue in areas such as the pancreas, liver and blood vessels, which can help to diagnose different types of cancer and to check for bleeding, blood clots and suspected tumours in the brain. They are also able to take pictures of bones and the surrounding muscles and blood vessels, which is useful when looking at the condition of blood vessels and bone disease such as osteoporosis.
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You will need a referral letter from a consultant or GP before booking any diagnostic investigation.
You will have a formal consultation with a healthcare professional. During this time you will be able to explain your medical history, symptoms and raise any concerns that you might have.
We will also discuss with you whether any further diagnostic tests, such as scans or blood tests, are needed. Any additional costs will be discussed before further tests are carried out.
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Our dedicated team will also give you tailored advice to follow in the run up to your visit.
We understand that having a scan can potentially be a time of anxiety and worry. Our experienced and caring medical staff will be there for you, holding your hand, every step of the way.
Depending on the part of your body being examined, you may have an injection of a dye (contrast medium) to make some tissues show up more clearly, or need to drink a liquid that will help improve the quality of the scan. These dyes are harmlessly removed from your blood by your kidney and passed out in your urine.
A CT scanner is a large, doughnut-shaped machine with a ring in the centre. Only the part of your body inside the ring can be scanned. A CT scan is painless.
During the procedure, you will lie on a table that can slide in or out of the ring. Your radiographer will position the table so that the part of your body being scanned is lying in the centre of the scanner. The table will move backwards or forwards very slowly and the X-ray unit will rotate around you to help produce images from all directions.
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. At certain points during the scan you may be asked to hold your breath or to swallow.
The whole scanning process will take between 15 minutes and one hour, depending on the different angles and number of pictures needed. The images are either stored on film or kept in a digital format and shown on a computer screen.
A CT scan is routinely done as an out-patient procedure, so you'll be able to leave hospital when it has finished.
When the images have been processed, your radiologist will use them to inform their diagnosis. Your doctor will then discuss with you whether you may need any further treatment.
CT scans are commonly performed and generally safe. You will be exposed to some X-ray radiation but the level of exposure is about the same as you would receive naturally from the environment over three years. Pregnant women are advised not to have CT scans as there’s a risk the radiation may cause damage to the unborn child.
Complications from a CT scan test are uncommon. In rare cases, it’s possible to have an allergic reaction to the contrast injection. Medicines are available to treat any allergic reaction. We will talk to you about the possible risks and complications of having this test and how they could apply to you.
If you have any questions or concerns, we’re ready to help.
We are committed to delivering excellent individual care and customer service across our network of hospitals, clinics and specialist care centres around the UK. Our dedicated and highly trained team aim to achieve consistently excellent results. For us it's more than just treating patients, it's about looking after people.
The treatment described on this page may be adapted to meet your individual needs, so it's important to follow your healthcare professional's advice and raise any questions that you may have with them.