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What Can I Expect from a CT Scan for Diverticulitis?

A mild sedative might be useful for those with claustrophobia who are going into a CT scanner.
A diagram showing diverticulitis and other colon problems.
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  • Written By: Rebecca Harkin
  • Edited By: Allegra J. Lingo
  • Last Modified Date: 20 August 2014
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Diverticulitis is a condition in which a protrusion, or diverticulum, in the wall of the intestine becomes infected or inflamed. A computed tomography (CT) scan is a sophisticated x-ray machine that affords a three-dimensional view inside the body, and can help provide clear pictures to determine if you have diverticulitis, how serious the diverticulitis is, if there is diverticular bleeding, and review the health of the surrounding colon wall. A typical CT scan for diverticulitis takes only five to ten minutes, but with test preparation and the time it takes to review the images, the whole procedure may last about an hour. A CT scan for diverticulitis has a 98 percent rate of accuracy.

Prior to the CT scan for diverticulitis you may be asked to clear your colon using either a strong laxative or an enema. You should carefully follow all of your doctor’s guidelines. Good preparation will ensure you receive the best scan possible.

You will more than likely be asked to put on a hospital gown for the CT scan, but it is often advisable to wear comfortable, loose clothes to the procedure just in case you are allowed to wear your own clothes. Metal objects like dentures, eyeglasses, barrettes and jewelry will not be permitted in the CT scanner because they can interfere with the images. The technician will put important items, like dentures and eye glasses, in a safe placed during the exam.

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To improve imaging, CT scans often require a contrast solution, normally composed of barium sulfide, to be inside the part of the body to be studied. The contrast can be administered orally, intravenously, or through an enema. Most patients who receive the contrast intravenously experience discomfort from the needle. The oral contrast may taste strange, but the taste does not last long. If you receive the solution through an enema, a medical professional will insert the contrast into your colon via a lubricated tube placed in the rectum, which will be removed once the scan is complete.

The CT scanner looks like a hollow tube with a bed in the center. During the scan, you will lie on the bed and be gently moved in and out of the tube. If you are claustrophobic and think the scan will make you nervous or anxious, you can ask your doctor to prescribe a mild sedative for the procedure. Someone will need to drive you home after the scan if you have taken a sedative.

Just before the scan, you will be manipulated into the best position for the imaging and then asked to remain as still as possible. The bed will slide into the scanner and the test will begin. You will hear low clicking and mechanical noises during the scan. Occasionally, you may be asked to hold your breath for a few seconds to ensure there is absolutely no movement. Images from a CT scanner are extremely sensitive to movement, and can disrupt or muddy the images.

When your scan is finished, you will be slid out of the machine and asked to relax for a few minutes while the radiologist reviews the images for clarity. If the scan was coherent, you will be able to leave. The scan will be performed again if the images are blurry.

Once the scan is complete, you will receive your results. You will either be given the results of your CT scan for diverticulitis at the lab, or the radiologist will consult with your doctor and call you later. If you are not given the results in the lab, you should ask the radiologist when you will hear about the test.

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