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Appendicitis CT Scan

A CT scan is a very sensitive and specific scan that takes a series of images of your internal structures. It can be used on your abdomen to get a detailed view of your appendix to determine whether or not you’re suffering from appendicitis. They can also be used as a non-invasive way to make sure treatment is working. 

Appendicitis is the swelling of the appendix which can lead to a number of dangerous complications, such as a ruptured appendix which can be life-threatening. 

How do appendicitis CT scans work?

CT (computed tomography) scans combine a series of X-ray images taken from all around the body to create cross-sectional images through computerised technology. They can show medical professionals your bones, blood vessels, soft tissues, organs, and more, giving them a better idea of what’s going on inside your body without having to undergo invasive procedures. 

The CT scan uses a circular device that will circle the torso and take a number of pictures of you from all angles, allowing the radiologist to diagnose anything wrong from the scans alone. Not only is this safer than opting for exploratory surgery, but it’s also much quicker and you can often be out of the scanner within 10 minutes. The actual scan takes around 20 seconds to complete.

An appendicitis CT produces a large number of cross-sectional images of your abdomen, where your appendix is located. The images will then be studied by your healthcare provider to determine which type of treatment is best for you.

CT scans offer many benefits and uses, but they’re particularly helpful in appendicitis patients as appendicitis tends to become dangerous very quickly. Your doctor will need to determine if the appendix is at risk of rupturing quickly to keep you safe and act accordingly, so a quick CT scan can be invaluable.

Why might you need an appendicitis CT scan?

Appendicitis is often considered a medical emergency due to how quickly it can worsen and become life-threatening. As soon as the appendix gets infected you’re at risk of it rupturing within your abdomen. A burst appendix can happen as quickly as 48 to 72 hours after your symptoms arise, so you need to be seen and treated as efficiently as possible. A CT scan is one of the fastest ways for your doctor to be able to determine whether your appendix is at risk of bursting or not.

Below we have detailed the common symptoms of appendicitis. If you are feeling any of these symptoms, your doctor might order an appendicitis CT scan.

  • Abdominal pain or right lower quadrant pain
  • Upset stomach
  • Vomiting
  • Loss of appetite
  • Fever and chills
  • Constipation
  • Diarrhoea
  • Trouble passing gas
  • Swollen abdomen

Abdominal pain is the number one symptom of appendicitis, so always keep an eye on this when you begin to notice the pain. Appendicitis pain often begins around your belly button before spreading to the lower right-hand side of your stomach. It can also start on the right lower quadrant of your stomach. This pain will often get worse as time goes on and it can feel worse when you move, touch your stomach, or cough.

Once your appendix bursts, the pain will be all over your stomach instead of located in just the lower part of your abdomen.

    How to prepare for your appendicitis CT scan

    If your appendicitis CT scan is pre-planned, your doctor will be able to tell you whether there’s anything you need to prepare specifically for the scan. For example, some patients are asked to:

        • Follow a specific diet plan before the scan
        • Take certain medication before a scan or as normal
        • Fast for several hours before the appointment
        • Not wear any clothing with metal on it, such as jewellery, zippers, or bras with underwire

    Most appendicitis CT scans are not planned, however, so you do not need to prepare anything for these. The radiologists will work around you to make sure the scan goes smoothly.

    It is vital that you tell your doctors a few things before a scan, including if you:

        • Are pregnant or breastfeeding
        • Take any medications
        • Have asthma
        • Have kidney or thyroid problems
        • Have diabetes
        • Have any allergies

    What to expect from your appendicitis CT scan

    During the scan

    When you arrive at your appointment, you will be asked to wear a gown provided instead of your clothing. You will then be asked to lie on your back on a table, which will be positioned inside the scanner. The scanner is a circular shaped machine that holds the cameras to take images of your internal structures. 

    Most hospitals will require positive oral and intravenous contrast media, which is a dye to help the radiologist see more through the images. If you are given a contrast medium you may experience side effects, including feeling hot and flustered, a metal aftertaste, and the sensation of using the bathroom despite the fact you’re not. 

    Once you’re positioned on the table scanner properly the radiologist will control the scanner from another room. You will be able to speak to them while you’re in the room, but you won’t be able to see them. They will also be able to hear and speak to you thanks to a microphone. 

    During the scan, you’ll need to lie very still to make sure the machine produces as crisp and clear images as possible. There will often be a head pillow to keep you comfortably positioned, but bear in mind that you should make a conscious effort not to move while the scan is in progress. 

    The machine can be quite claustrophobic and eerie, especially when it’s loud and you’re on your own in a sterile environment. If you tend to suffer from claustrophobia or get stressed in small spaces to the point you think it might affect your scan, you can tell your doctor this beforehand. Some hospitals will give you a small sedative if this is the case to keep you calm. 

    However, most hospitals also give patients headphones to wear while they’re in the scanner to prevent the loud noise from becoming too distracting. The headphones will feature a microphone which you can use to talk to your radiologist if you need anything. 

    Most appendicitis CT scans take around 15 to 20 minutes, but this includes the preparation and administering of the contrast medium. The scan often only takes a few minutes. After your scan is completed, the table will slide back out of the CT machine and you will be able to move freely. 

    After the scan

    The majority of patients who experience appendicitis CT scans report no side effects or pain whatsoever. You may experience pain in your abdomen due to your condition, but this is not due to the CT scanner. You might also feel unnerved or on edge due to being in the scanner and the unique experience that comes with it, but again, this shouldn’t be painful. If you experience any pain that you think has been caused by the CT scan, make sure to tell your doctor immediately. 

    Most scans show the results instantly, so your doctor will be able to tell you their findings quickly. They will then be able to tell you whether you need treatment, and what kind they’re offering your individual case. Most doctors ask you to allow for 48 hours after the scan to get your results, but as appendicitis is a medical emergency, you’ll often get them as soon as possible. 

    After the scan is finished and you have been taken from the scanning room to your wing, your doctors can inform you of next steps. If they are allowing you to go home, you’ll often be able to walk straight away unless you’ve been given a sedative. Some hospitals ask to keep you for 30 minutes after the scan if you’ve been given a contrast medium to make sure you don’t have a negative reaction to it. 

    What are the benefits of appendicitis CT scans?

    There are plenty of benefits to using a CT scan for appendicitis, which we have detailed a few of below:

    • CT scans are simple and quick to carry out for the majority of cases, and you should be out of the scanning room within 20 minutes
    • CT scans offer a non-invasive way of looking at your appendix to make sure it hasn’t ruptured or at risk of bursting
    • A CT scan can detect other issues within your abdomen as well, so your doctor is more likely to be able to treat multiple concerns at once
    • CT results come back incredibly quickly, which is great for patients with appendicitis as it helps doctors treat them more efficiently to prevent the appendix from bursting


    Can a CT scan detect appendicitis?

    Yes, appendicitis CT scans have an accuracy rate of 98 percent when diagnosing acute appendicitis. This is especially true when the CT scan is performed and examined by an experienced radiologist.

    Are there any risks to CT scans?

    Possible complications are rare for CT scans, but some people have had an allergic reaction to the contrast medium before or during their scan. This can cause weakened breathing, so make sure you tell your radiologist if you have trouble breathing during or after a scan.

    Lots of CT scans can increase the amount of radiation you’re exposed to, which can increase the risk of cancer. If your appendix is extremely inflamed at the point of scanning, there is the risk that it could rupture while you’re being scanned.