Abdominal computed tomography scan – The Health Encyclopedia

Introduction to abdominal computed tomography scan

Abdominal computed tomography Scan abbreviated as CT scan and also referred to as a CAT scan is a specialized kind of X-ray that scans your abdominal region so as to reveal the cross-sectional images of the organs, bones and blood vessels therein located. It is mostly carried out when your doctor to ascertain his doubts about an abnormality in the abdominal region especially when every other laboratory test or physical examination have failed. It is therefore confirmatory in nature.


Your doctor might invite you for an abdominal computed tomography scan in any of the following:

  1. When you have appendicitis
  2. When you are experiencing unexplained weight loss
  3. When you have persistent abdominal pains
  4. When you have an obvious abdominal mass and you can actually feel it.
  5. In cases of kidney stones
  6. When there is a need to conduct a physical examination for an intestinal obstruction
  7. When the bowels are inflamed e.g. Crohn’s disease
  8. When injuries are sustained following a trauma
  9. When you have been recently diagnosed with cancer

Your doctor can choose an abdominal computed tomography scan instead of a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) because a CAT scan is quite, cheaper, faster and space-friendly compared to an MRI. CAT scan is space-friendly in the sense that you do not have to be restricted to a small enclosed place for the procedure to be carried out as seen in MRI.

Also, your doctor might prefer an abdominal computed tomography scan to an X-ray because it is more detailed when compared to an X-ray.

A computed tomography scanner checks the entire body, and taking images from various angles. While an X-ray gets images from just one angle of the body, a CAT scan can take a cross-sectional view of abdominal structures and thus can provide comprehensive details compared to an X-ray can.


Abdominal computed tomography scan

Photo Credit: Wikipedia


Preparing for an abdominal computed tomography scan

To undergo this procedure, you are likely going to stay away from eating for 2-4, avoid taking some medications that might interfere with it, put on loose clothing for easy access to the examining table, do away with items on you that might affect the procedure. Examples are hearing aids, eyeglasses, brassiere with an underwire made of metal, hair clips, jewelry, dentures etc.

You might also have to drink some generous quantity of a liquid called oral contrast that contains two substances -barium or Gastrografin (e.g. diatrizoate sodium and diatrizoate meglumine liquid). These two substances help a doctor to have better pictures of your abdominal structure. Contrast can take about 1 to 1.5 hours before it completely circulates in the body.

It is very important that you let your doctor know if you’re diabetic, pregnant or allergic to iodine, barium or any type of contrast before you embark on the scan.

Alongside using barium as a contrast dye, you might have to take an intravenous contrast dye. This intravenous dye is to allow for the highlighting of the abdominal structures including the blood vessels. It is likely going to be a dye made of iodine concentrates. IV contrast has a very slim chance of being allergic. Hence it is useful for people who have allergies, especially iodine allergy. Steroids can also help reduce your chances of having a reaction.


Conducting an abdominal CT scan

It typically lasts for 10 – 30 minutes. In any hospital that does diagnostic procedures. To perform a CAT scan, you will have to lie on an examining table using a specific position. Other supports for easy assessment might be a pillow or straps as the case may be. The essence of this is to allow the technician to properly view your body. An IV contrast dye is then given to you. Your history of allergies with dyes will be put into consideration. The dye can make you feel some warmth upon administration.

At some point in the procedure, it might be required of you to hold your breath. This is to ensure that a clear image is seen. The result will be subsequently sent to a computer for proper presentation and understanding.


Side effects of an abdominal computed tomography scan

This is likely going to be caused by the contrast dye used and allergies are a common thing.

For instance, it has been found that barium contrast can cause constipation, abdominal cramping, nausea or vomiting, and diarrhea.

Iodine contrast, on the other hand, induces skin rash, headache, and itching.

Symptoms can be very severe and will need an emergency help. For instance, the following cases have been recorded by different people who did this procedure; difficulty in breathing, increased heart rate, swelling of the throat or other parts of the body.


Risks of an abdominal computed tomography scan

Because of exposure to contrast dyes and strong radiations, certain risks are like to abound. Let us look at some of them.

Birth defects: if you are pregnant and are exposed to radiations from a CT scan, your growing fetus might be affected and predisposed to developing genetic defects that can threaten his life at birth and maturity.

Allergic reaction: the most common is skin rashes. The chances of having a life-threatening allergic reaction are rare.

Kidney failure: Intravenous contrast increases the risk of developing kidney failure especially if you had previously had a kidney malfunctioning or even dehydrated.

The risk of developing cancer is increased due to a large number of radiations emitted from the scan. This risk is quite lower than natural cancer development according to report from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).


The aftermath of an abdominal computed tomography scan

After an abdominal computed tomography scan, you can likely get back to your daily activities.

The result from an abdominal computed tomography scan only takes a day to process. A follow-up appointment might be scheduled by your doctor so he can discuss your results with you. An abnormal result is usually an indicator of any of the following; kidney-related conditions, liver-related problems, Crohn’s disease, pancreatic cancer, colon cancer or abdominal aortic aneurysm. A further call to action will, therefore, be required of you as instructed by your doctor. He might direct you to go for a further diagnostic test so he can have handful information on how to treat you.


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