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Abdominal CT scan

Computed tomography scan - abdomen; CT scan - abdomen; CT abdomen and pelvis

 

An abdominal CT scan is an imaging method. This test uses x-rays to create cross-sectional pictures of the belly area. CT stands for computed tomography.

How the Test is Performed

 

You will lie on a narrow table that slides into the center of the CT scanner. Most often, you will lie on your back with your arms raised above your head.

Once you are inside the scanner, the machine's x-ray beam rotates around you. Modern spiral scanners can perform the exam without stopping.

A computer creates separate images of the belly area. These are called slices. These images can be stored, viewed on a monitor, or printed on film. Three-dimensional models of the belly area can be made by stacking the slices together.

You must be still during the exam, because movement causes blurred images. You may be told to hold your breath for short periods of time.

In many cases, an abdominal CT is done with a pelvis CT.

The scan should take less than 30 minutes.

 

How to Prepare for the Test

 

You need to have a special dye, called contrast, put into your body before some exams. Contrast helps certain areas show up better on the x-rays. Contrast can be administered in various ways. Such as:

  • Contrast can be given through a vein (IV) in your hand or forearm. If contrast is used, you may also be asked not to eat or drink anything for 4 to 6 hours before the test.
  • You may have to drink the contrast before the exam. When you drink it will depend on the type of exam being done. Contrast has a chalky taste, although some are flavored so they taste a little better. The contrast you drink will pass out of your body through your stools and is harmless.

Let your health care provider know if you have ever had a reaction to contrast. You may need to take medicines before the test to safely receive this substance.

Before receiving the contrast, tell your provider if you take the diabetes medicine metformin. People taking this medicine may have to stop taking it for a while before the test.

Let your provider know if you have any kidney problems. The IV contrast can worsen kidney function.

Too much weight can damage the scanner. Find out if the CT machine has a weight limit if you weigh more than 300 pounds (135 kg).

You will need to take off your jewelry and wear a hospital gown during the study.

 

How the Test will Feel

 

Lying on the hard table may be a little bit uncomfortable.

If you have contrast through a vein (IV), you may have:

  • Slight burning sensation
  • Metallic taste in the mouth
  • Warm flushing of the body

These feelings are normal and go away within a few seconds.

 

Why the Test is Performed

 

An abdominal CT scan makes detailed pictures of the structures inside your belly very quickly.

This test may be used to look for:

  • Blood in the urine
  • Cause of abdominal pain or swelling
  • Cause of abnormal blood test results such as liver or kidney problems
  • Hernia
  • Cause of a fever
  • Masses and tumors, including cancer
  • Infections or injury
  • Kidney stones
  • Appendicitis

 

What Abnormal Results Mean

 

The abdominal CT scan may show some cancers, including:

  • Cancer of the renal pelvis or ureter
  • Colon cancer
  • Hepatocellular carcinoma
  • Lymphoma
  • Melanoma
  • Ovarian cancer
  • Pancreatic cancer
  • Pheochromocytoma
  • Renal cell carcinoma (kidney cancer)
  • Spread of cancers that began outside the belly

The abdominal CT scan may show problems with the gallbladder, liver, or pancreas, including:

  • Acute cholecystitis
  • Alcoholic liver disease
  • Cholelithiasis
  • Pancreatic abscess
  • Pancreatic pseudocyst
  • Pancreatitis
  • Blockage of bile ducts

The abdominal CT scan may reveal the following kidney problems:

  • Blockage of the kidneys
  • Hydronephrosis (kidney swelling from the backflow of urine)
  • Kidney infection
  • Kidney stones
  • Kidney or ureter damage
  • Polycystic kidney disease

Abnormal results may also be due to:

  • Abdominal aortic aneurysm
  • Abscesses
  • Appendicitis
  • Bowel wall thickening
  • Crohn disease
  • Renal artery stenosis
  • Renal vein thrombosis

 

Risks

 

Risks of CT scans include:

  • Allergy to contrast dye
  • Exposure to radiation
  • Damage to kidney function from contrast dye

CT scans expose you to more radiation than regular x-rays. Many x-rays or CT scans over time may increase your risk for cancer. However, the risk from any one scan is small. Most modern scanners are able to reduce the radiation exposure. Talk to your provider about this risk and the benefit of the test for getting a correct diagnosis of your medical problem.

Some people have allergies to contrast dye. Let your provider know if you have ever had an allergic reaction to injected contrast dye.

The most common type of contrast given into a vein contains iodine. If you have an iodine allergy, you may have nausea or vomiting, sneezing, itching, or hives if you get this type of contrast. If you must be given such contrast, your provider may give you antihistamines (such as Benadryl) or steroids before the test.

Your kidneys help remove IV dye from the body. You may need extra fluids after the test to help flush the iodine out of your body if you have kidney disease or diabetes.

Rarely, the dye may cause a life-threatening allergic response. Tell the scanner operator right away if you have any trouble breathing during the test. Scanners come with an intercom and speakers, so the operator can hear you at all times.

 

 

References

Kim DH, Pickhardt PJ. Diagnostic imaging procedures in gastroenterology. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman's Cecil Medicine. 25th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2016:chap 133.

Radiologyinfo.org. Computed tomography (CT) - abdomen and pelvis. Updated June 16, 2016. www.radiologyinfo.org/en/info.cfm?pg=abdominct. Accessed July 25, 2016.

Shaw AS, Prokop M. Computed tomography. In: Adam A, Dixon AK, Gillard JH, Schaefer-Prokop CM, eds. Grainger & Allison's Diagnostic Radiology. 6th ed. New York, NY: Elsevier Churchill Livingstone; 2015:chap 4.

 
  • CT scan

    CT scan - illustration

    CT stands for computerized tomography. In this procedure, a thin X-ray beam is rotated around the area of the body to be visualized. Using very complicated mathematical processes called algorithms, the computer is able to generate a 3-D image of a section through the body. CT scans are very detailed and provide excellent information for the physician.

    CT scan

    illustration

  • Digestive system

    Digestive system - illustration

    The esophagus, stomach, large and small intestine, aided by the liver, gallbladder and pancreas convert the nutritive components of food into energy and break down the non-nutritive components into waste to be excreted.

    Digestive system

    illustration

  • Liver cirrhosis, CT scan

    Liver cirrhosis, CT scan - illustration

    A CT scan of the upper abdomen showing cirrhosis of the liver.

    Liver cirrhosis, CT scan

    illustration

  • Liver metastases, CT scan

    Liver metastases, CT scan - illustration

    A CT scan of the upper abdomen showing multiple metastasis (cancer that has spread) in the liver of a patient with carcinoma of the large bowel. Note the dark areas in the liver (left side and center of picture).

    Liver metastases, CT scan

    illustration

  • Lymph node metastases, CT scan

    Lymph node metastases, CT scan - illustration

    A CT scan of the middle abdomen showing a large tumor mass due to metastasis (spreading cancer) in abdominal lymph nodes.

    Lymph node metastases, CT scan

    illustration

  • Lymphoma, malignant - CT scan

    Lymphoma, malignant - CT scan - illustration

    This abdominal CT scan shows tumor masses (malignant lymphomas) in the area behind the peritoneal cavity (retroperitoneal space).

    Lymphoma, malignant - CT scan

    illustration

  • Neuroblastoma in the liver - CT scan

    Neuroblastoma in the liver - CT scan - illustration

    This CT scan of the upper abdomen shows a large tumor (neuroblastoma) on the person's right side (lower left side of picture). The tumor is behind the liver and is pushing the liver forward and may have possibly spread into the liver tissue.

    Neuroblastoma in the liver - CT scan

    illustration

  • Pancreatic, cystic adenoma - CT scan

    Pancreatic, cystic adenoma - CT scan - illustration

    A CT scan of the upper abdomen showing a large cyst in the pancreas (cystic adenoma of the pancreas) seen on the upper right side of the picture.

    Pancreatic, cystic adenoma - CT scan

    illustration

  • Pancreatic cancer, CT scan

    Pancreatic cancer, CT scan - illustration

    A CT scan of the upper abdomen showing a tumor (pancreas carcinoma) in the head of the pancreas, seen here in the middle of the picture.

    Pancreatic cancer, CT scan

    illustration

  • Pancreatic pseudocyst, CT scan

    Pancreatic pseudocyst, CT scan - illustration

    A CT scan of the upper abdomen showing a pseudocyst in the corpus, or tail, of the pancreas.

    Pancreatic pseudocyst, CT scan

    illustration

  • Peritoneal and ovarian cancer, CT scan

    Peritoneal and ovarian cancer, CT scan - illustration

    A CT scan series of the lower abdomen showing ovarian cancer that has metastasized (spread) to the peritoneum.

    Peritoneal and ovarian cancer, CT scan

    illustration

  • Spleen metastasis - CT scan

    Spleen metastasis - CT scan - illustration

    This CT scan of the upper abdomen shows multiple tumors in the liver and spleen that have spread (metastasized) from an original intestinal cancer (carcinoma).

    Spleen metastasis - CT scan

    illustration

  • Normal external abdomen

    Normal external abdomen - illustration

    The abdomen is the area of the body between the chest and pelvis. Some of the large internal organs comprised in this area are the liver, stomach, kidneys, and intestines.

    Normal external abdomen

    illustration

    • CT scan

      CT scan - illustration

      CT stands for computerized tomography. In this procedure, a thin X-ray beam is rotated around the area of the body to be visualized. Using very complicated mathematical processes called algorithms, the computer is able to generate a 3-D image of a section through the body. CT scans are very detailed and provide excellent information for the physician.

      CT scan

      illustration

    • Digestive system

      Digestive system - illustration

      The esophagus, stomach, large and small intestine, aided by the liver, gallbladder and pancreas convert the nutritive components of food into energy and break down the non-nutritive components into waste to be excreted.

      Digestive system

      illustration

    • Liver cirrhosis, CT scan

      Liver cirrhosis, CT scan - illustration

      A CT scan of the upper abdomen showing cirrhosis of the liver.

      Liver cirrhosis, CT scan

      illustration

    • Liver metastases, CT scan

      Liver metastases, CT scan - illustration

      A CT scan of the upper abdomen showing multiple metastasis (cancer that has spread) in the liver of a patient with carcinoma of the large bowel. Note the dark areas in the liver (left side and center of picture).

      Liver metastases, CT scan

      illustration

    • Lymph node metastases, CT scan

      Lymph node metastases, CT scan - illustration

      A CT scan of the middle abdomen showing a large tumor mass due to metastasis (spreading cancer) in abdominal lymph nodes.

      Lymph node metastases, CT scan

      illustration

    • Lymphoma, malignant - CT scan

      Lymphoma, malignant - CT scan - illustration

      This abdominal CT scan shows tumor masses (malignant lymphomas) in the area behind the peritoneal cavity (retroperitoneal space).

      Lymphoma, malignant - CT scan

      illustration

    • Neuroblastoma in the liver - CT scan

      Neuroblastoma in the liver - CT scan - illustration

      This CT scan of the upper abdomen shows a large tumor (neuroblastoma) on the person's right side (lower left side of picture). The tumor is behind the liver and is pushing the liver forward and may have possibly spread into the liver tissue.

      Neuroblastoma in the liver - CT scan

      illustration

    • Pancreatic, cystic adenoma - CT scan

      Pancreatic, cystic adenoma - CT scan - illustration

      A CT scan of the upper abdomen showing a large cyst in the pancreas (cystic adenoma of the pancreas) seen on the upper right side of the picture.

      Pancreatic, cystic adenoma - CT scan

      illustration

    • Pancreatic cancer, CT scan

      Pancreatic cancer, CT scan - illustration

      A CT scan of the upper abdomen showing a tumor (pancreas carcinoma) in the head of the pancreas, seen here in the middle of the picture.

      Pancreatic cancer, CT scan

      illustration

    • Pancreatic pseudocyst, CT scan

      Pancreatic pseudocyst, CT scan - illustration

      A CT scan of the upper abdomen showing a pseudocyst in the corpus, or tail, of the pancreas.

      Pancreatic pseudocyst, CT scan

      illustration

    • Peritoneal and ovarian cancer, CT scan

      Peritoneal and ovarian cancer, CT scan - illustration

      A CT scan series of the lower abdomen showing ovarian cancer that has metastasized (spread) to the peritoneum.

      Peritoneal and ovarian cancer, CT scan

      illustration

    • Spleen metastasis - CT scan

      Spleen metastasis - CT scan - illustration

      This CT scan of the upper abdomen shows multiple tumors in the liver and spleen that have spread (metastasized) from an original intestinal cancer (carcinoma).

      Spleen metastasis - CT scan

      illustration

    • Normal external abdomen

      Normal external abdomen - illustration

      The abdomen is the area of the body between the chest and pelvis. Some of the large internal organs comprised in this area are the liver, stomach, kidneys, and intestines.

      Normal external abdomen

      illustration

    A Closer Look

     

      Self Care

       

        Tests for Abdominal CT scan

         

         

        Review Date: 7/3/2016

        Reviewed By: Jason Levy, MD, Northside Radiology Associates, Atlanta, GA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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