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What is an Abdominal CT Scan?

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  • Written By: Tricia Ellis-Christensen
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 18 August 2016
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A computerized axial tomography (CAT) scan or a computed tomography (CT) scan is an enhanced form of x-ray that evaluates or visualizes the body in slices or cross-sections. This is an excellent diagnostic tool for doctors and may be ordered to look at various areas of the body. If the area of interest is in the belly, abdominal cavity or pelvis, the test is usually called an abdominal CT scan.

For most people, the abdominal CT scan is without discomfort and takes a relatively short period of time. Many find more time is spent waiting for the procedure than it actually takes to get the scan. Sometimes the scan is ordered with contrast dye, which may help to better see certain cross-sections of the abdomen. This takes a little longer because the dye is generally given by injection or through intravenous drip. Alternately some people need to drink a special barium solution, and wait a specified time period before having the actual x-rays.

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In most types of abdominal CT scan people are prone or lying down, on a table. The actual x-ray part looks like tube or round area that rises above the person. The table can move back and forth, and as the table moves, people are usually asked to take breaths, hold them and release them, often by an automated voice. As stated, the entire procedure is usually pretty short, lasting no more than an hour at the longest. Many people spend much less time and have a complete scan done in about 15 minutes; length of time is not indicative of serious issues.

When contrast by IV is used, the length of the procedure is still usually about the same and the same table sliding, breathing and scanning tends to occur. The one thing people may note is a feeling of heat or flushing when the dye is injected. Under rare circumstances, people have a strong allergic reaction to the dye, and those who begin to feel sick, itchy or who are having trouble breathing should alert the abdominal CT scan technician immediately. For most people, the dye doesn’t pose a problem, though at injection time it may feel a little uncomfortable.

People can expect that the results of an abdominal CT scan will not be made immediately known to them. Unless an urgent problem in the abdominal cavity requires immediate medical intervention, most people go home, and then hear results from their treating physicians within a few days. Technicians performing a scan might theoretically be able to read results but they are not doctors and they are really not allowed to discuss results with patients. It wouldn’t be wise to depend on this information anyway because it hasn’t been interpreted and read by a skilled radiologist.

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