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What Is a Pelvic CT Scan?

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  • Written By: Clara Kedrek
  • Edited By: Jessica Seminara
  • Last Modified Date: 05 September 2016
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A pelvic computed tomography (CT) scan is an imaging modality used to examine the parts of the body located in the pelvic region. The technique uses ionizing radiation in order to create multiple two-dimensional images of this region of the body. Diseases or symptoms involving the gastrointestinal tract, female reproductive organs, kidneys, or blood vessels can be evaluated using this imaging technique. Although this radiographic procedure can provide important information, it exposes patients to harmful radiation, and might cause kidney problems if it is used along with intravenous contrast material.

The pelvic CT scan works by using X-rays to elucidate the anatomic structures underlying the skin in the human body. It uses the same technology as an X-ray machine, but instead of providing one image, it provides multiple images located at certain levels within the body. Traditionally, a pelvic CT scan will provide images that transect the human body, generating successive images starting at a region of the body around the umbilicus and continuing down until the top of the thighs. Interpretation of these numerous two-dimensional images allows radiologists or other health care providers to conceptualize the three-dimensional structures present in this region of the body.

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Many different symptoms and diseases can be evaluated using a pelvic CT scan. A variety of different abdominal complaints — including abdominal pain, diarrhea, constipation, bloating, and cramping — can be evaluated using this imaging technique, and might diagnose conditions such as appendicitis, diverticulosis, colitis, and pancreatitis. The method is useful for examining pathology of the female reproductive tract, including pelvic inflammatory disease, fibroids, or ovarian cysts. Kidney stones can also be visualized using this imaging technique. Even large blood vessels, such as the aorta, can be evaluated with this radiographic method, and conditions such as stenosis, aneurysm, dissection, atherosclerosis, and thrombosis can be diagnosed.

There are some negative side effects that can occur from obtaining a pelvic CT scan, and this radiographic technique cannot be performed in all individuals. The technique uses ionizing radiation, which can cause cumulative harm to patients exposed to it over time. Patients who have repeat CT scans could have an increased risk of developing various cancers. Often the imaging technique uses intravenous contrast in order to better visualize the structures of the body. This contrast is unfortunately toxic to the kidney, so it should be used with caution in patients with underlying renal insufficiency.

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