What Is Computed Tomography?

At Intermountain Medical Imaging, computed tomography (CT) is one of the tools our certified radiologists use to get a detailed look at what is going on inside the body. Known as a CT or CAT scan, it is a fast, painless procedure that involves taking multiple, three-dimensional images that allow your healthcare provider to better treat a variety of potentially serious health issues and diseases. The following outlines what computed tomography is generally used for, how it can benefit you, and what to expect during your visit.

What Is Computed Tomography Used For?

In a traditional x-ray, images of various body parts and systems are obtained through the use of small doses of radiation. This radiation passes through body tissues, producing two-dimensional photos known as radiographs. Your doctor uses these in diagnosing and treating various health conditions. Computed tomography relies on these same basic principles but provides a more detailed, cross-sectional look at what is going on within the body.

Unlike a regular x-ray, a CT scan produces wafer-thin images, which are referred to as ‘slices,’ much like a slice in a loaf of bread. These slices are then projected to a computer screen, where they are stacked to produce three-dimensional images. The radiologist then uses these images in diagnosing your condition, helping your healthcare provider to determine the best course of treatment, and monitor your progress. Common uses for computed tomography include:

  • To uncover internal injuries suffered as a result of accidents, such as broken bones or internal bleeding;
  • To detect abnormalities within the joints and soft tissues;
  • To discover blood clots, abscesses, infections, or tumors in body organs or blood vessels;
  • To diagnose digestive disorders;
  • To guide treatment plans, such as before surgery or radiation and where biopsies should be taken;
  • To screen for and monitor conditions such as cancer and heart, lung, or liver disease.

How Does Computed Tomography Work?

In a regular x-ray, in which the device remains in a fixed position, CT scans use a motorized x-ray source which moves around the patients, taking more in-depth images. During the procedure, the patient lays on a table, which moves through a donut-shaped opening in the CT machine, known as the gantry. As the table moves through the device, the x-ray source rotates around inside, shooting small beams of radiation. These beams are picked up by detectors on the opposite side, which is then transmitted to a computer. While the patient is unlikely to perceive it, the x-ray source rotates very quickly and multiple times. This provides the ‘slices,’ which are then stacked together. The radiologist reads these images, which are then used by your healthcare provider in diagnosing and treating any underlying conditions.

Depending on the body part or system being scanned, a contrast agent may be used. This is a dye that may be injected intravenously, or it may be a substance the patient is required to drink before testing. This contrasting agent can help to illuminate problems in areas such as the brain or reproductive organs and the circulatory or digestive systems.

How Long Does A CT Scan Take?

While computed tomography is a complex, state-of-the-art imaging test, patients generally experience it as a simple and completely painless procedure. Our certified technologists are highly skilled in performing CT scans and will guide you through the process, answering any questions you have before, during, or after the exam. It can generally be completed in as little as 15 to 30 minutes, depending on the part of the body being examined and whether a contrast dye is used. Patients can usually resume their normal daily activities in the immediate aftermath, and the results are available to your healthcare provider, generally within 24 to 48 hours.

How Should I Prepare For A CT Exam?

Preparing for a CT scan at Intermountain Medical Imaging is relatively simple. In general, you will want to do the following:

  • Wear loose, comfortable clothing on the day of your visit;
  • Remove any watches or other jewelry you have;
  • If your CT scan involves a contrast agent, please ask about any eating or drinking restrictions.

Care You Can Trust!

As a trusted provider of CT scanning in the Boise area, Intermountain Medical Imaging has been serving the local community for more than 20 years. To discuss your options for scheduling or for a price quote, contact our IMI offices.