CT (Computed Tomography)

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A computed tomography scan -- also called a CT or CAT scan -- uses an advanced X-ray system and a computer to create 3D and 4D images of your lungs, solid organs, heart, blood vessels, bones, and other tissues in your body. It can help your doctor diagnose a disease, learn more about an injury, assess the effectiveness of a treatment, or plan a treatment.  

Our CT Scan Locations

What Does a CT Scan Show?

Your doctor may refer you for a CT scan if previous imaging was abnormal or did not provide enough information. CT scans are used to monitor treatments for many diseases and can be used to look more closely for:

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Preparing for Your CT Scan

The CT Scan Machine

A CT scanner is shaped like a ring or donut. The scanner rotates around you while you lie on a table, and images are taken at different angles around the body.  

CT Scan Safety and Comfort

Most people who feel uncomfortable in tight spaces do not have problems getting a CT scan. The scanner is open at both ends, and your technologist will be able to see and hear you during the scan. Most CT scan sessions take between 20 and 30 minutes, but time spent inside the scanner is typically less than five minutes.

Contrast to Highlight Areas of the Body

Oral and IV contrast may be used for CT scans depending on the reason for the exam. Contrast is used for some CT scans to evaluate the cardiovascular system, solid organs, or other areas of the body. Before your scan, you may be asked to drink a fluid containing contrast, or you may be given contrast through an IV into a vein in your arm or hand. Being well-hydrated beforehand will make it easier to start an IV.

Depending on the part of the body being scanned and whether you require contrast, you may or may not have dietary restrictions.

  • If you are having a CT scan of your heart, avoid caffeine before your appointment.  
  • If you are having a CT interventional procedure such as a pain injection, biopsy, or drainage, you will be asked not to eat or drink on the day of your procedure.

Tell your doctor if you have diabetes or kidney problems or are allergic to contrast.

  • If you have kidney problems, lab work may be needed before your CT scan with contrast. 
  • If you are allergic to contrast, medications can be prescribed to prevent allergic reactions during your CT scan with contrast if appropriate.

Getting Ready for Your CT Scan

Before your exam, you will be asked to remove all metal items including jewelry, glasses, hairpins, dentures, hearing aids, and some clothing. 

During the Scan

The technologist operating the CT scanner will explain what will happen during the scan. You will be asked to lie on a table. You may hear clicking and whirring noises as images are generated while your body moves through the machine. It is important to lie still because movement can cause blurry pictures. Your technologist will ask you to stay still and hold your breath for short periods during the scan. Throughout the exam, you will be able to communicate with your technologist, and they will be able to see, hear, and talk to you.

Getting Your Results

Once your CT scan is complete, your images are interpreted by a radiologist, a doctor trained in medical image interpretation. Your report and images will be available through Duke MyChart for you to discuss with your doctor. 

Since you will be able to access your results as soon as they are available, you may often see them in MyChart before your doctor has had a chance to look at them and explain them to you. If you prefer not to see your results before your doctor, let them know. They can request a delay in sending your information to MyChart until you have the chance to talk with them.

Consistently Ranked Among the Nation’s Best Hospitals

Duke University Hospital is proud of our team and the exceptional care they provide. They are why we are once again recognized as the best hospital in North Carolina, and nationally ranked in 11 adult and 9 pediatric specialties by U.S. News & World Report for 2023–2024.

Why Choose Duke

Your Safety Is Our Priority

A team of radiologists, medical physicists, and specially trained technologists and nurses work together to ensure your CT scan is safe and high-quality. We are accredited by the American College of Radiology (ACR), meaning we provide the highest level of safety and image quality. The scanners also undergo rigorous internal quality control, which exceeds even the high ACR standards. These accreditations and quality control programs demonstrate our commitment to providing you with the best experience possible.

Advanced Technologies

Duke technologists have access to the most up-to-date technology. We have over 20 CT scanners with advanced capabilities including dual-energy, dual-source, and wide-bore imaging capabilities. We offer screening and diagnostic procedures at both hospital and ambulatory sites.

This page was medically reviewed on 09/14/2023 by