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Chest CT Scan

A chest CT scan is a specialised x-ray that takes detailed images of the chest and upper abdomen, specifically the lungs, heart, blood vessels, airways, ribs and lymph nodes. This type of scan produces cross-sectional pictures that allow a doctor to see any abnormalities, even tiny ones.

Because a chest CT scan generates multiple cross-sectional pictures of the chest, called slices, a computer can combine these images together to create a 3D model. This allows the radiologist to see details that wouldn’t be possible to see on a traditional x-ray.

Chest CT scans are commonly used to diagnose a number of conditions in the chest region. The preciseness of a Chest CT scan means that these conditions can be detected in their early stage, allowing for a better prognosis than late detection.

How do chest CT scans work?

Chest CT scans are a diagnostic medical imaging test that produces multiple images of the chest region, inside the body. It’s a non-invasive tool that produces cross-sectional images (or slices) of soft tissue, organs, bone and blood vessels.

When the scan is being done, a narrow x-ray beam rotates around your body, taking multiple images. These images are then projected onto the computer screen that the technician is using. The computer program is able to show these images as two-dimensional, or it can stack together multiple images to create a 3-D rendering. The type of images used will depend on your physician and what they are trying to detect.

Sometimes, a physician will conduct a contrast Chest CT scan. For this type of scan, a patient will have a special dye delivered intravenously, or they will be given oral contrast, these methods can help show certain structures more clearly.

Why Might You Need A chest CT scan?

A normal x-ray of the chest area is usually done prior to a chest CT scan. If the physician can’t identify a condition from a standard x-ray, they will often order a CT scan. However, this isn’t always the case. If the physician suspects a problem that can only be detected with a chest CT scan, they may skip an x-ray order and suggest a CT scan.

If you are experiencing any of the following issues, your doctor may order a chest CT scan.

  • Unexplained cough
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pain or discomfort that doesn’t improve over time
  • Chest injuries from an accident or fall
  • If severe respiratory symptoms are noticed
  • If an abnormality is noticed on a chest x-ray
  • To determine the responsiveness of radiation treatment
  • If abnormalities are found in a blood or lab test

It’s well known that Chest CT scans are used for the early detection of lung cancer. While this is true, a chest CT scan can also recognise a number of other problems and conditions located in the chest and lung region. Some of these include:

  • Lung infection
  • Lung cancer
  • Blocked blood flow in the lung (pulmonary embolism)
  • Interstitial lung disease
  • Blood clots
  • Pleural effusion (excess fluid in the lungs)
  • Heart disease
  • Injuries in the lung or chest area
  • Tumors and legions
  • Tuberculosis
  • Pneumonia
  • Other lung conditions

How To Prepare For Your chest CT Scan

A chest CT scan will only be conducted after a doctor or surgeon orders it, so you should have already discussed your symptoms or ailments with a medical professional. Chest CT scans are usually issued after an x-ray has detected an abnormality.

Prior to your chest CT scan, you generally won’t need to do anything out of the ordinary to prepare. In most cases, you can eat and drink as normal before your appointment. However, sometimes a radiologist will use a contrast dye during the scan so that they can pick up small abnormalities. If this type of scan is done, your technician may ask you not to drink or eat within a certain timeframe before. To be sure you should check with your referring physician before the scan.

You’ll also need to remove all metal objects, (like a necklace, bracelet, earrings, hair pins, piercings and hearing aids). Patients shouldn’t wear any hairspray or makeup to their appointment as both of these items include metal particles. Any metal objects or particles can interfere with the scan.

If you have a metal object inside your body, like an implanted medical device or metal pins for a broken bone, you should let the radiologist know.

What To Expect from your chest CT scan

CT scans are an advanced X-ray that can identify many conditions that a traditional x-ray isn’t able to. Below are some reasons why Chest CT scans are commonly used.

  • CT scans are a non-invasive procedure, meaning they are quick and easy.
  • They can show tiny abnormalities that wouldn’t be evident on a traditional x-ray.
  • The detailed image from an MRI can help a doctor diagnose a condition and determine what kind of treatment is required.
  • They provide a very detailed image, allowing a technician to see tendons, ligaments and bone abnormalities that aren’t displayed in a regular x-ray.


Why would a doctor order a chest CT scan?

A chest CT scan can pick up a wide range of conditions and is ordered for varying symptoms. Usually, a traditional x-ray is done first, and a CT scan is undertaken if the condition isn’t evident in the x-rays. Some examples of symptoms where chest CT scans are ordered include unexplained cough, shortness of breath, other severe respiratory conditions, chest pain and chest injuries. They are also commonly used to monitor chest surgery or the success of radiation treatment.

How long does a chest CT scan take?

The entire process of a chest CT scan takes about 30-6o minutes. However, this time involves getting ready for the scan. The scan itself usually only takes a few minutes.

Is a chest CT scan uncomfortable?

A chest CT scan should be painless and the patient shouldn’t feel anything. The exception is if the scan is ordered as a result of an injury. A technician will position a patient so that the scan is effective, this may sometimes cause mild pain as the injured area is moved. However, the technican will ensure that they are extremely gentle and cause as minimal pain as possible.

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