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CT Scan of the Chest

Definition and Explanation of CT Scan of the Chest

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Updated April 28, 2014

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

A CT (computed tomography) of the chest is a non-invasive imaging study that helps doctors see the vessels of the lungs. Sometimes, prior to a CT scan, material called contrast dye is injected into the vein. This allows your doctor to see the abnormalities in your lungs more clearly.

Why is a CT Scan of the Chest Performed?

Although a CT scan of the chest is not generally used to diagnose the presence of COPD, your doctor may order one if he suspects a lung infection like pneumonia, or if your COPD symptoms have changed or worsened. You may also undergo a CT scan of the chest if you are preparing for any type of lung surgery.

How Is the Test Performed?

A CT of the chest will be performed in an enclosed room at your doctor's office, diagnostic imaging center or in the hospital. You will lie down on your back on a narrow, flat table with your head on a pillow. Once you are ready, the table will slide into the scanner, where the scan takes place. If your doctor orders a CT with contrast, an IV will be placed in your hand or arm and contrast die injected into your vein before the test is performed. For your protection and to make sure you are not allergic to the contrast dye, you will be asked a series of questions before it is used.

It is extremely important that you lie completely still during the CT scan, as if you move, the images of your lungs will blur and the test will have to be repeated.

During the test, the table will advance through the scanner in short intervals. Depending upon the scanner, a complete scan will not take longer than a few minutes.

How to Prepare for a CT Scan of the Chest

Your doctor may or may not ask that you refrain from eating or drinking 4 to 6 hours before the scan, particularly if contrast dye is going to be used.

Once you arrive to the scan location, you will be asked to change into a gown and remove your jewelry or anything else on your body that may contain metal.

In most instances, the scanner has a weight limit of approximately 300 pounds. Contact the center in which your scan will take place if your weight exceeds the limit.

Talk with your doctor about being pre-sedated if you are claustrophobic, or uncomfortable in small enclosures.

Will the Test Hurt?

CT scans are painless, although you may experience slight discomfort from lying in one position for an extended period of time.

Are There Any Risks Involved?

The benefits of getting a CT scan are thought to far outweigh the risks. Although there is some exposure to radiation during the scan, it is highly regulated to provide the least amount needed to get a clear picture.

A CT scan is NOT recommend if you are pregnant but may be needed in diagnosing certain emergency situations, such as a pulmonary embolism.

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