In healthcare these days, Computed Tomography scans, or CT scans as they are more commonly referred to, are being prescribed by doctors quite frequently. The goal of this article is to better prepare patients for one of these exams. I have been a diagnostic radiology and CT scan technologist for over 16 years. During those years I have witnessed that many times patients aren't properly prepared when they come into a hospital or clinic setting for their cat scan. Quite frequently this is because patients are not provided with adequate information about the procedure. I have outlined a few areas that seem to have caused the most problems throughout the years.
- Metal objects in clothing or on the patient's body can cause artifacts on the scan image, degrading its quality. If possible then, it is best to wear clothing without metal, and to leave most jewelry at home on the day of the test.
- Many CT exams require oral and or IV contrast; find out for sure if your exam requires these at least one day before your scheduled appointment. The oral contrast usually comes in two bottles, one to be drunk the night before the test, the other the morning of the test. Right off the bat, if the contrast consumption is not correct, this can throw off the timing of the exam, and you might spend all day there, instead of a few hours.
Also, many times IV contrast is also used and most places usually require kidney function blood tests to be drawn if the patient is over 50 years of age. These blood tests can usually be done a few weeks before the exam, or even the day of the exam, but you will be there a little longer as the lab usually takes an hour or so to get these test results back.
The IV contrast usually administered in most settings has iodine in it, and if you're allergic to iodine, most places will either forgo the iodine or give you a combination of drugs to lessen the chance allergic reaction. If you're a patient with diabetes, sickle cell anemia, an organ transplant, kidney disease, and various blood disorders, you will definitely want to tell the technologist doing your exam, as different precautions are taken for patients with these maladies.
- When scheduling a CT scan, ask for a copy of the exam prescription. That way you can bring it with you on the day of the test. This can be shown to the technologist performing the scan to assure that the correct procedure will be preformed. Sometimes there can be a breakdown in communication during scheduling; having a copy of the exam will keep the hospital staff from having to track down the physician who ordered the exam to find out what he wanted done.
- Arrive at least 45 minutes earlier than your scheduled test time. Most places require you to go through some sort of an admitting service to get all your information into the computer, and if it is a busy day there, getting stuck in admitting could delay your testing.
- If a patient becomes pregnant before her scheduled CT scan exam, she should consult with everyone involved to discuss whether the exam should be postponed or not. Radiation to the baby in early term pregnancies is usually not directed unless mother and child are in a life and death situation, and/or no other imaging options can be used to diagnose the problem. That being said, a pregnancy test for childbearing-age females is another lab test that should be considered before her CT scan exam.
- Patients with Claustrophobia should discuss that issue with the staff before the test. Most CT scan machines these days are extremely fast, but sometimes patients cannot make it through the test. That issue can be circumvented with anesthesia if the situation calls for it. Sometimes anesthesia is also used for pediatric patients; parents should discuss that option if they think it could be needed for young children that cannot remain still for the tests.
Each healthcare facility performing CT scans might vary somewhat in the way they suggest you prepare for your scan, and it is best to follow their advice. As a patient, a great way to alleviate any anxieties on the day of your test is to ask questions. I appreciate it when my patients ask questions, and I am happy to answer them. The bottom line is, the more knowledgeable the patient is, the smoother the whole process will proceed. Armed with these helpful suggestions, hopefully, your next CT scan will go well.