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CT Scans

Your physician may recommend a CT scan to help diagnose a variety of conditions. A CT (computed tomography) scan is a painless, noninvasive diagnostic procedure that produces detailed cross-sectional images of your body. CTs are used for detecting tumors and can also reveal life-threatening internal injuries in emergency cases.

CT Scans: Why Choose Us?

When you come to the Washington University Mallinckrodt Institute of Radiology at Barnes-Jewish Hospital, you will find:

  • Advanced technology: Thanks to the large size of our CT department, we are able to use the most sophisticated CT technology available. For our radiologists, that means seeing clearer, more accurate images. And for our patients, it means the least amount of radiation exposure possible.
  • High volume: At Barnes-Jewish Hospital, we perform more than 100,000 CT exams per year. This high volume of procedures gives us superior expertise in both performing and reading CT images.
  • Safety: Our CT department is accredited by the American College of Radiology (ACR) for achieving all standards of best practice related to radiation safety and compliance. ACR accreditation is recognized as the gold standard in medical imaging.
  • Experienced team: All of the CT technologists at Barnes-Jewish Hospital are registered by The American Registry of Radiologic Technologists and hold advanced registry credentials in CT. Meet our radiology team.

How CT Scans Work

A computer helps guide this exam to ensure accuracy. We produce complex images by rotating a narrow X-ray beam around you and taking images from multiple angles. The images of the area being studied appear as thin slices, similar to the slices in a loaf of bread. CT scans are used to image internal organs, bones, soft tissue and blood vessels.

CT Scans: What to Expect

Here’s what you can expect when you come in for a CT scan:

  • Preparation: CT scanners look like a large, donut-shaped machine. In preparation for the scan, you will lie down on a motorized table. We may use straps, pillows or a head cradle to help keep your body in the proper position.
  • During the scan: The motorized table will move you through the donut-shaped scanner as the CT tube rotates around you. The scanner takes images. The computer processes those images and displays them on a screen to the technologist.
  • Lying still: You will hear a humming sound from the CT machine. The table you are lying on will move. You should remain as still as possible. To ensure the clearest images, follow the breathing instructions given by the technologist.
  • Communication during exam: The technologist performing the scan will be in a separate room, but you can communicate via intercom at any point during the procedure.
  • Length of exam: Exams typically take 15 minutes or less, but may vary according to the area being imaged. From start to finish, please allow at least 45 minutes for your entire CT appointment.

Preparing for Your CT Scan Appointment

Before you come in for your CT scan, please follow this checklist:

  • Confirm insurance coverage: Please confirm with your referring physician's office that any precertification required by your insurance has been completed before your CT appointment.
  • Have these documents ready at your appointment:
    • Photo ID (driver’s license or state ID)
    • Insurance card(s)
    • A completed Medication Record
  • Dress comfortably: Wear comfortable, loose-fitting clothing to your exam. In some cases, we will give you a hospital gown to wear during the procedure.
  • Food, drink and medications: Take your medication as you normally do, unless your referring physician has told you otherwise. Do not eat or drink anything else for 2 hours before your CT exam unless otherwise instructed.
  • Be prepared to discuss your medical history: We may ask you about your completed Medication Record, allergies and any previous surgeries. Women should always inform their physician and the CT technologist if there is any possibility that they are pregnant.
  • If your exam requires contrast: Some CT exams require a contrast material to highlight certain areas of the body. The material may be iodine that will be injected and/or barium that you may be asked to drink. If a contrast material is necessary for your exam:
    • For an intravenous (IV) contrast, a nurse or technologist will insert an IV line into a vein in your hand or arm. In some cases, you will be given a liquid containing the contrast material to drink before the exam.
    • With IV contrast, you may notice a metallic taste in your mouth and/or a warm sensation in your body. This is normal and will subside quickly. With oral contrast, you may notice slight changes in bowel movements. This too will return to normal. Report any unusual symptoms to the CT technologist. 
    • If you have a known allergy to iodinated contrast, please inform your referring physician’s office before scheduling a CT exam. You may still be able to have the CT exam; however, you may have to take additional medications prior to the exam. Always inform the physician and technologist of any allergies.

Contact Us

New patients: To schedule an appointment, please call 314.362.7111 or toll free at 877.992.7111. Please note: You or your referring physician will need to provide a referral order before your appointment.

Current CT patients: Please call the CT department at 314.747.9696 with any questions about your CT exam. Get all the patient information you need, including additional contact information and maps to our locations.

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