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How long does a CT scan take? Answers to your CT scan FAQs.

Key takeaways:

  • Computed tomography (CT) scans are non-intrusive and painless.
  • It’s important to disclose medical conditions, such as pregnancy, with your doctor.
  • Low-dose CT scans are the ideal preventative measure for patients at risk of lung cancer.
  • CT scans expose patients to ionizing radiation, so the risk/benefit ratio of a CT scan needs to be discussed with your doctor.

Getting a computed tomography (CT) scan can feel scary, but it doesn’t need to be. Generally safe and non-intrusive, CT scans are a valuable diagnostic tool for preventative health care.

Computed tomography, sometimes called a CAT scan, uses ionizing radiation to take X-rays from different angles. Computer-processed combinations of the X-rays produce a detailed cross-sectional image of the body’s internal structures — bones, organs, arteries and blood vessels, and other soft tissues.

Health care professionals use a CT scan to diagnose bone damage, internal injuries, stroke, blood flow issues, and cancer. Computed tomography can help determine the size, shape, and location of a tumor in preparation for surgery or radiotherapy. Finally, these scans can also help with a needle biopsy or draining abscesses.

Many people wonder how long a CT scan takes, among other things. Here are some of the most frequently asked questions about CT scans.

1. How long does a CT scan take?

In most cases, a CT takes 10-30 minutes. But, depending on the reason for the scan, it can take 45 minutes to an hour.

If your CT exam needs a contrast dye, the scanning appointment will take longer. The extra time comes from administering the contrast material and waiting for it to take effect.

2. Do I need a referral for a CT scan?

In most cases, you need a medical referral for a CT scan, especially if you want to bill your insurance provider. However, some radiological firms will allow you to self-refer. Regulations vary by state.

3. How do I schedule an appointment for a CT?

Typically, a doctor will order a CT scan, and the imaging facility will call you to schedule your exam. However, elective scans are becoming more widely available; you simply need to schedule your appointment (which you can often do online).

4. How much does a CT scan cost, and will my insurance cover it?

The cost of a CT scan depends on how extensive the scan is. It can range between $500 to $3,000.

Depending on your health insurance policy’s provisions, the company will pay some or all of the cost. Check your policy benefits to find your deductible and how your insurance provider covers imaging.

If you are having an elective scan, your provider likely only offers their services directly to consumers. However, you may be able to use your HSA/FSA funding.

5. What should I tell my practitioner before scheduling a CT scan?

Be sure to discuss any recent illnesses or medical conditions with your doctor. Also, review your medical history. You should discuss heart disease, asthma, diabetes, kidney disease, or thyroid problems, and other pre-existing conditions with your doctor.

Take a list of your current medications to your scanning appointment. Include prescriptions, over-the-counter medications, supplements, and vitamins.

You should also discuss the risk/benefits ratio of getting a CT scan, as you will be exposed to potentially harmful ionizing radiation.

6. Can I have a CAT scan if I’m pregnant or breastfeeding?

Pregnant women should not have CT scans. If you suspect you could be pregnant, talk to your doctor. They can order a serum pregnancy test that is 98% accurate at 11 days following conception. It’s more accurate than a urine test. Because CT scans are not safe during pregnancy, you need to get an accurate test if you think you could be pregnant.

The best advice for lactating women is to express and freeze a 24-hour supply of breast milk before your scanning appointment.

7. Do I need an injection of a contrast agent for my CT exam?

Not all CT scans require a contrast dye, and in fact, at Ezra, we do not use contrast agents for our low-dose CT lung cancer screening scan.

The use of contrast agents depends on the study needed for your medical condition and your medical history. Contrast agents, such as iodine and barium, block X-rays and make the area appear white in the images for better visibility. If the radiologist or doctor thinks it’s necessary, they’ll order a CT scan with contrast.

Contrast material is also administered orally or by enema. A scan of the abdomen, particularly the gastrointestinal tract, may be administered using both methods depending on the study needed.

People sometimes have an allergic reaction to a contrast agent. You may also notice a metallic taste, but that’s normal. If you know you’re allergic to contrast material, tell your doctor and the radiologist or technician.

8. Should someone accompany me to my screening and drive me home?

If you have been given a sedative in preparation for your scan, you’ll need someone to drive you home.

9. Can someone be with me during the exam?

Because of radiation exposure, no one else is allowed in the scanning room.

In the case of young children, one parent may be allowed to stay, provided they use an apron-like, lead-filled cover to protect them from radiation exposure.

10. How should I prepare for a CT scan?

How long does a CT scan take: Woman smiling and looking straight ahead

Arrive 15-20 minutes early for your appointment, perhaps further in advance if the scan requires contrast agents. It does take a while for the contrast agent to move into the scanning target area of your body, especially if an abdominal scan is required. If the contrast material is ingestible rather than intravenous and takes several hours to be effective, you may be able to pick it up and take it ahead of time.

You’ll need to remove any metal objects that could interfere with the imaging, such as belts, jewelry, dentures, or glasses. Wear comfortable clothing that’s easy to remove. You may be required to remove some or all of your clothes. If that’s the case, your technician will provide you with a hospital gown.

Generally, you may eat and drink as normal. If your scan includes an injection of a contrast agent, you’ll need to avoid eating or drinking from three hours beforehand. Clear fluids are usually OK, though in some cases, you may receive instructions to restrict your fluids.

11. What will happen during my CT scan?

During your scan, you’ll lie on a table that passes through the scanner. As you move through the doughnut-shaped machine, the scanner vertically circles the target area, taking multiple X-ray images that produce a unified and 3-dimensional picture of your body’s targeted area. You’ll hear a whirring sound as the scanner moves around you.

The technician will help you get into position and administer an intravenous contrast agent if it’s required. Although the technician will be in another room during scanning, you’ll be able to see and hear her via the intercom.

12. Will the CT imaging examination hurt?

Computed tomography is a painless procedure. While holding still for the screening may be uncomfortable for some patients, the CT scan does not hurt.

If you are required to have an intravenous contrast agent, there may be some mild discomfort as the IV is administered.

13. Do I need to be still or hold my breath during the exam?

You will need to lie still and avoid talking during active scanning because if you move, it could distort the images. Your tech might ask you to hold your breath for a short time during the scan.

14. Will I feel claustrophobic during the screening?

The scanner’s doughnut is thinner, smaller, and more open than an MRI scanner. Even if you are a bit claustrophobic, you’ll likely feel more comfortable as the tube is open at both ends.

15. Can I listen to music or an audiobook during my CT scan?

Yes, the technologist will probably offer you a headset and your choice of entertainment. Ezra has a broad choice of Spotify playlists to choose from, so you’ll be able to enjoy your favorite music.

16. What if I start to feel sick during my CT scan?

If you begin to feel ill during the scan, tell the technologist immediately. Ezra does not use contrast agents, which decreases your chances of feeling sick during a scan.

17. What happens after a CT scan?

Doctor and patient shaking hands

Immediately after the scan, the technician will monitor you for side effects or reactions to the contrast dye. (Note: Ezra does not use contrast dye). Side effects can include a rash, itching, swelling, or difficulty breathing.

After you get home, keep an eye on your symptoms. If you’ve had IV contrast, tell your doctor right away if you notice any pain, redness, or swelling at the IV site. Those signs could indicate an infection or delayed reaction.

If you received oral contrast, you may develop diarrhea that should pass once the contrast material has moved through your system.

At Ezra, we do not use contrast agents.

A scan without contrast requires no special care. You can resume your normal activities, including diet. Your doctor will tell you if they want you to change your regular practices after the procedure.

18. When can I expect to hear my CAT scan results?

If you’ve done your CT scan with Ezra, your  Ezra Medical Provider will guide you through your results. Both you and your doctor will receive a copy within a week and be able to access your report online.

Computed tomography (CT scan) is a non-intrusive technique for looking inside your body.

CT scanning is a form of medical imaging that is quick and painless. Few people experience claustrophobic reactions to the scanning procedure because of its open design, especially when compared to an MRI scan.

The amount of radiation is more than a standard X-ray, and the amount of radiation depends on the type of scan you will get. We recommend you discuss the risk/benefits ratio with your medical provider

If you are at high risk for lung cancer, you can choose to have an elective low-dose CT scan with Ezra. LDCT has been shown to decrease lung cancer-based mortality in recent studies.

LDCT is the only CT imaging technique that Ezra uses. In just a few easy steps, you can book your LDCT today.