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CT Scans: What to Know

Finding Answers From a CT Scan

Alexa always felt a hard knot on the side of her neck. It never caused her pain, and she chalked it up to spine issues during adolescence and her job.

“I have scoliosis, which required me to wear a brace in middle school, and I have a career where I mostly sit at a desk all day,” the 29-year-old says.

She sought out help from multiple massage therapists who all thought the knot was a very hard muscle and recommended a cortisone shot to loosen it up.

“I was hesitant as the neck is a very sensitive area and the thought of getting a shot there made me nervous.”

When Alexa got her annual physical in May 2021, she mentioned the issue to her primary care physician (PCP), who recommended that Alexa get a CT exam to get to the bottom of what it was. Alexa went to Carolinas Imaging Services Ballantyne to get a CT scan with contrast.

“Everything was so easy. They had an early morning appointment for me, and I was in and out within 15 minutes,” she says. “The technologist who oversaw the exam was really friendly and made the whole experience seamless. I got the results that afternoon, and my PCP wrote a note in my medical file the next day!”

The results of the CT showed that the hard knot was simply a benign bony abnormality. This experience gave Alexa peace of mind and speaks to the importance of talking to your physician if you notice any changes in your body or health.

“I believe it’s important to be in tune with your body. Overall, my experience getting a CT scan was quick and painless.”
—Alexa, CT Patient

CT Scans, Explained

Also known as computed tomography, CT technology creates detailed internal images of the body, including the internal organs, bones, soft tissues such as muscles, nerves, and connective tissues, as well as the lymph vessels and blood vessels (veins and arteries).

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Additionally, these scans help your physician identify and evaluate a wide range of diseases, injuries, and abnormalities. In addition to detecting and guiding the treatment of cancerous tumors anywhere in the body, CT scans can also uncover problems affecting specific areas, including:

Abdomen — CT scans can help determine the reasons for unexplained abdominal pain. Scans can detect abdominal masses, abscesses, and cysts, disclose damage or disease of internal organs including the bowels, kidneys, pancreas, spleen, and liver, and help track down the source of internal bleeding.

Head and neck — CT scans can help find the cause of symptoms such as headaches and dizziness. Scans of the head and neck can detect problems such as injuries of the bones and soft tissues of the face and skull, the airways and sinus passages, and blood vessel malformations or ruptures (aneurysms).

Heart and blood vessels — A CT scan of the heart and blood vessels can locate blood clots, hone in on aneurysms, and look for signs of cardiovascular disease such as calcium deposits in the arteries.

Lungs — CT scans of the lungs can help identify the origins of chest pain or breathing difficulties, as well as detect abnormalities that may be benign growths, scar tissue, or the early stages of cancer.

Musculoskeletal (MSK) system — A CT scan of the bones, spine, and joints can help root out the source of MSK pain and other symptoms. CT scans can uncover details of MSK disorders such as bone tumors, lesions or infections, fractures or displacements of the hip, spine, pelvis, and other major bones, muscle damage or inflammation, as well as joint and connective tissue problems such as tendonitis.

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Imaging Studies That Use CT

Arthrography — This diagnostic tool works in tandem with CT technology to focus on joints including the hips, wrists, ankles, shoulders or knees.

Calcium scoring — As a method of detecting coronary artery disease, calcium scoring measures heart attack risk and can be run alongside coronary CT angiography, an exam recommended for those with a high risk of heart disease but no current symptoms.

CT colonography — Unlike a traditional colonoscopy, this noninvasive procedure is a quicker and more comfortable alternative.

Lung cancer screening — Low-dose CT scans help detect lung cancer that may not be detectable on an X-ray.

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Who Needs CT Scans the Most

One reason a physician might order a CT scan is to evaluate and monitor a patient’s existing health problem. For example, a CT scan could be used to pinpoint the location of a cancerous tumor, determine the stage of cancer and plan the best treatment options. CT scans can also be used to check how well treatment is progressing and check if cancer has spread to other parts of the body.

For individuals at high risk of developing heart, lung, abdominal or pelvis disease, CT scans might aid early detection and treatment.

Depending on your needs, your physician may recommend that a CT scan be combined with other imaging techniques such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to gain a more comprehensive picture of your health status.

Read More: The Differences Between MRI and CT Scans

Procedure Details

In general, the procedure could take anywhere from 15 to 45 minutes. The time it takes to complete your CT scan will depend on the reasons for the scan and what your physician needs to focus on the most. To enhance details of internal organs, muscles and blood vessels, you may be asked to drink contrast material, which takes some time to circulate through the body. During the scan, your physician may order additional exams to inspect certain features in greater detail.

Learn more about the diagnostic imaging options available through Carolinas Imaging Services, a joint venture between Charlotte Radiology and Atrium Health.