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abdominal CT

Alternative Names 
abdominal computed tomography, abdominal CT scan, CAT scan of the abdomen, CT scan of the abdomen

Who is a candidate for the test? 
This test is recommended for persons with suspected diseases or conditions of the abdomen. A person may be advised to have an abdominal CT in any of the following situations:
  • abdominal trauma
  • abnormal findings on X-ray, ultrasound, or other studies of the abdomen
  • abdominal distress for unknown reasons
  • suspected abdominal cancer
  • suspected liver, kidney, gallbladder, or bowel disease
  • undiagnosed fevers, to make sure an abscess or pocket of pus is not present
How is the test performed? 
The person is asked to undress completely and put on a hospital gown. This examination normally requires dye to be given to enhance the images. An intravenous injection of dye is given just before or during the examination. This is usually given through an injection in the arm.

The person is asked to lie on a narrow platform. This platform carries the person through a machine shaped like a doughnut. The machine takes a series of X-rays as the table moves slowly through it. It is important to remain still while the pictures are being taken.

The pictures produced are computer-generated "slices" of the abdomen. Each X-ray contains a very low dose of radiation and takes only seconds. The entire test lasts about 45 minutes but much shorter times if new spiral CT scans are used. The technologist will check to see if the pictures are adequate. After the examination, the person can usually get dressed and leave.

What is involved in preparation for the test? 
Persons will be asked about allergies to dye or iodine, which is in the dye. Women will also be asked if they may be pregnant. All jewellery and metal objects must be removed to avoid interference with the images. This examination can cause an uncomfortable feeling from being in small places called claustrophobia. A person with claustrophobia may require a sedative before the examination. The X-ray department will tell the person if other preparations are needed.

What do the test results mean? 
The pictures can reveal many different diseases and conditions. Examples include cancer, organ damage, abnormal blood vessels, infections, kidney stones, bleeding, and others. The doctor will discuss the results of the examination with the person.

Author: James Compton, MD
Reviewer: eknowhow Medical Review Panel
Editor: Dr John Hearne
Last Updated: 6/06/2005
Potential conflict of interest information for reviewers available on request

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