Purpose: A computed axial tomography scan, or computed tomography scan, produces detailed pictures of the body quickly.
What's involved: The patient lies on a narrow table that slides into the center of the CT scanner. Depending on the study being done, he or she may need to lie on the stomach, back or side. Once the patient is inside the scanner, the X-ray beam rotates around the body.
What to wear: A hospital gown is provided.
Restrictions: Patients must be still - and may be asked to hold their breath briefly - because movement results in blurred images. Because X-rays are being taken, patients also must remove all jewelry. Some scans require a dye ("contrast") to make the images clearer. A patient may be required not to eat or drink for 4-6 hours before the test, possibly longer if contrast is being used.
Time frame: Scans can take 15-60 minutes, but the newest scanners can do an entire body, head to toe, in less than 30 seconds.
Pain level: Lying on the table can be uncomfortable. And the contrast, delivered by an IV, may cause a burning sensation or a metallic taste in the mouth.
Worst part of procedure: Having to stay still for the procedure.
Recovery: Most patients can resume normal activity immediately.