A computed tomography scan (CT scan or CAT scan) uses computer-controlled X-rays to take rapid, multiple three dimensionalimages or "slices" of a body area. An x-ray unit rotates around your body.
A CT scan only takes seconds to perform.
CT scans include miminal risks which are generally outweighed by the benefits, but should still be considered.
- A CT Scan includes radiation exposure which can potentially be harmful over a lifetime. CT scans provide 100 - 500 times higher exposure to radiation than an ordinary x-ray. Experts disagree about the actual health risk from exposure to low levels of radiation from medical imaging such as a CT scan.
- If the scan is with contrast, contrast agents add other risks, including possible harm to the kidneys and allergic reactions.
- Unnecessary scans are also a waste of money.
Unnecessary scans can be avoided by taking the following steps:
- If you recently underwent the same test (even in another facility) give the doctor a copy of that test or provide information about how to get a copy of the test (for example, with the name of the facility and the doctor who ordered the test.)
- Ask: is this scan really necessary?
- If you think a CT scan is being pushed too strongly, you can ask a nother doctor for a second opinion.
- If you want to research this question on your own before consulting with your doctor, the American College of Radiology (ACR) has developed appropriateness criteria by condition and/or procedure. See: www.acr.org/ac
- If the test is necessary, ask: Are there alternatives that do not include radiation that would be just as effective such as a MRI or an ultrasound?
- Ask whether the doctor has a financial interest in the scanning facility. At least one study found that, on average, doctors who own CT scanners ordered 3 times more tests than doctors who did not have a financial state in a CT scanner.
- Ask for a copy of a CT Scan.
- Copies are usually free if requested at the time of the scan. Having a copy will help you avoid unnecessary duplicate scans if you later get treated at a different hospital.
- Keep the disk with you in your Medical Binder. Take your binder with you each time you see a doctor. There is no way to know up front what information will be helpful in a particular meeting.
- If the facility refuses to give you a copy, ask to speak with an administrator. You own your medical records and are entitled to a copy.
A CT scan should only be undertaken in an accredited facility under the supervision of qualified people.
The other sections of this article provide the following information: