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CT Abdomen Scan

An abdominal ct scan is a computed tomography scan of the abdomen area. CT scans produce detailed images and are superior to x-rays in the sense that they show bones, as well as blood vessels, organs, muscles and fat all in one scan.

Because of their precise detail, and ability to show various matters of the body, they can be used to diagnose a large range of conditions.

Abdominal CT scans use the same technique as general CT scans, however, they are used specifically to diagnose and help treat conditions or injuries that occur in the abdomen region. They are commonly ordered when there is unexplained, persistent pain anywhere in the abdomen and when other results can’t be ruled out through lab tests or a physical exam.

They are used to diagnose a large range of conditions, including colon cancer, lymphoma, Pancreatitis and liver disease.

How do abdomen CT scans work?

A single abdominal CT scan will generate a large number of cross-sectional images. Because of the unique cross-section angle, physicians are able to detect many conditions that other types of x-rays may not show.

When the scan is in progress, a device will circle the abdomen and snap photos milliseconds apart. Because of the speed of the camera and the movement of the device, multiple images, that are very similar, will be produced. These detailed pictures can be linked together to create a three-dimensional picture. This can help a physician correctly diagnose a patient.

Sometimes a technician will order a contrast cat scan. This type of imaging involves the patient consuming a contrast material like a dye, this dye will highlight very small details for your doctor and help them detect very small anomalies. Contrast dye can help improve the image quality by contrasting the required areas.

Contrast dye can be administered in a number of different ways, some of these include intravenously and via an oral contrast drink. Whether a scan with contrast dye is required will depend on your specific condition, as well as the issuing physician’s preference.

Why might you need an abdomen cat/ct scan?

Abdominal scans must be ordered by a referring doctor or surgeon. Prior to the scan, the patient will have undergone a consultation with a doctor where their symptoms or condition were discussed. Doctors or surgeons will also conduct a physical exam before ordering a CAT or CT scan.

Abdominal scans are also ordered when a patient has had an injury or accident and has suffered damage in the abdominal area as a result. A patient receiving treatment for an abdomen-related condition – like pancreatic cancer- may have cat scans ordered to monitor how effective the treatment is.

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

  • Sharp and sudden abdominal pain
  • Persistent dull pain in the abdomen that doesn’t improve over time
  • A lump in the abdomen region that can be felt through the skin
  • Blood in the urine
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Changed skin colour (particularly when there’s an orange or yellow tinge)
  • The inability to urinate without pain
  • Bowel blockages

Below are a number of conditions that an abdominal CT scan can help diagnose.

  • Cancer of the renal, uterus, pancreas, ovaries or colon
  • Lymphoma
  • Melanoma
  • Alcoholic liver disease
  • Pancreatitis
  • Kidney infection
  • Kidney stones
  • Abscesses
  • Appendicitis
  • Crohn disease
  • Renal artery stenosis
  • Renal vein thrombosis
  • Other conditions of the abdomen

How to prepare for your Computed Tomography (CT) scan of the Abdomen

An abdominal CT scan will be ordered by a referring physician or surgeon. Patients should have already discussed their symptoms or condition with a medical professional. Prior to your abdominal scan appointment, you generally won’t need to do anything special for a regular scan.

Sometimes a radiologist will order a contrast scan. This is when a contrast dye is administered to the patient through an IV or consumption. This contrast material will be directed to the area being scanned. The dye works by blocking x- rays, helping to highlight blood vessels, intestines or other structures.

If your physician has ordered a contrast scan, they may ask you not to consume food or drink for a period of time before the scan. To be sure whether you can eat or drink before your scan, you should check with your referring physician prior to the appointment.

It’s a good idea to try and remove as many metal objects as you can before you leave home. Metal objects, like a watch, jewellery and hair pins cannot be used during the scan, as they can affect the images. Makeup and hairspray sometimes have tiny metal ingredients in them, so you should avoid wearing these too.

If you have any metal items surgically implanted, like metal plates or screws for an injury, you should let the technician know before the scan begins.

What to expect from your abdominal CT scan

During the scan 

When you are taken into a medical room for your abdominal CT scan, you will be given a hospital gown to change into.

Once you’re dressed in the gown and all metal objects are removed, a technician will ask you to lay on a narrow table and will position you so that the CT scanner can capture the correct angles.

If you are getting a CT scan with a contrast agent, a medical technician will advise you on whether it’s an oral contrast or an iv contrast. From here they will administer the contrast intravenously, or they will ask you to consume a meal or drink that includes the contrast. Some people experience a slight metallic taste when consuming the contrast. In very rare cases, the contrast material can cause anaphylaxis for allergic patients, so if you have any trouble breathing at all, you should tell the physician immediately. More importantly if you are aware of any prior allergic reaction you must inform the clinic staff or indicate this on the consent form.

A technician will typically fit patients with earphones and a buzzer. When pressed inside the scanner, the buzzer will allow the patient to speak with the technologist, who will be located in a separate room.

After this, the narrow table will slowly slide you inside the CT machine, which is a dome-shaped machine. It can be quite cramped inside, so if you suffer from claustrophobia, you should let your doctor know before your scan. If they see it fitting, the doctor may administer a sedative to relax you. Once inside the machine, you shouldn’t feel anything at all.

Most abdominal CT scans take around 30-60 minutes, but this time involves getting ready for the test. The scan itself should only take a few minutes.

Once the scan is completed, the machine will slide the patient back out and you’ll be able to get ready to leave.

After the scan

Once the scan is completed, the doctor will let you know how long your results will talk. Abdominal cat scan results usually take about one day. However, this may vary depending on how urgent your doctor thinks the results are.

You should feel completely normal after the scan, though occasionally patients feel very mildly nauseous or mild local pain. If the discomfort persists for a number of hours, you should consult a GP. If you have any allergic reaction symptoms after the scan, like a skin rash, you should notify a doctor immedately. Severe reactions are extremely rare.

After the scan, you can go about your day as normal. The exception to this is claustrophobic patients who were sedated for the CT scan, this patients will need some time to regain conciousness and should be driven home by someone else.

What are the benefits of abdomen CT scans?

There are some conditions of the abdomen that can become fatal if not diagnosed early, or indicative of chronic health problems. CT scans are an effective method for early diagnosis, helping doctors to treat things quickly. Below are some reasons why CT scans are commonly used.

  • An abdominal scan can capture images of soft tissue, blood vessels and bone all at the same time.
  • They are a non-invasive procedure, meaning minimal pain and they are done quickly and easily without the requirement of a sedative (except in claustrophobic cases).
  • They can detect issues that a physical exam can’t confirm.
  • The results are quick, which can help save the lives of patients in cases that require urgent treatment


Why would a doctor order an abdominal CT scan?

Abdominal scans are generally ordered after a doctor or surgeon has done a physical assessment, as well as x-rays or lab tests. If the former tests are inconclusive, or indicative that the patient could have a condition that can be identified by a CT scan, a doctor will order the scan. CT scans are also used to monitor ongoing treatment in the abdominal region for a variety of conditions and for assessment of the abdominal organs.

How long does an abdomen CT scan take?

The scan itself should take just a few minutes. Most appointments take about 30-60 minutes, and this includes preparation time.

What do you wear for an abdomen scan?

It’s a good idea to wear comfortable clothing to your appointment. Once you get to the scan, you’ll be given a hospital gown to change into for the CT scan.

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