Pediatric CT Scan

What is a CT scan?

Computed tomography (CT) is an X-ray exam that produces cross-sectional images of the body. Each cross-section represents a “slice” of the part of the body being imaged. When viewed together, these images provide more detail than regular X-ray images. CT is used to look at most parts of the body.

A CT scanner looks like a big donut with a motorized table that slides in and out of the opening. The exam is usually painless and quick. For some CT exams, we will give your child a contrast agent through a vein or by mouth to make the organs and structures more visible on the images.

How can I help my child prepare for the exam?

If your child will be having a CT with contrast, or if your child will be sedated for the exam, you will need to follow some preparation instructions. Children with known allergies to contrast will receive special preparation instructions.

CT with Intravenous (IV) Contrast

  • Your child should not eat anything for two hours before the exam.
  • They may drink clear liquids.

CT of Abdomen or Pelvis With Contrast

  • You will be instructed to come to the hospital two hours in advance of your exam.
  • When you arrive, we will give your child a drinkable contrast agent.

CT with Sedation

  • We will provide you with sedation preparation instructions.

On the day of the exam your child should wear comfortable clothes. If you have copies of prior exams, please bring them with you. Please make childcare arrangements for siblings as they will not be allowed into the exam room.

Please note that if you are pregnant, you will not be allowed in the room during the exam and may wish to make arrangements to have someone else be with your child.

What will happen during the exam?

When you arrive for your appointment, your child may be asked to change into a gown. You will be allowed to accompany your child to the exam room.

If your child will be receiving IV contrast, a nurse will first insert an IV line into their hand or arm. Your child may feel a warm, flushed sensation during the injection and may have a slight unpleasant taste in their mouth for a few minutes. If your child is being sedated for the exam we will also insert an IV line.

The technologist will then take you and your child to the CT exam room and position your child on the table, usually on their back. The technologist will leave the room to perform the scan, but they will be able to see, hear, and speak with your child at all times.

During the exam, the table slides slowly into the scanner. A red light may shine on your child’s body, which helps ensure that they are properly positioned. The technologist will ask your child to hold very still and may ask them to hold their breath a few times during the scan. Any type of movement during a CT scan will make the images look fuzzy.

The scan takes between five to 15 minutes to complete.

How can I help my child feel comfortable during the exam?

Young children sometimes find the CT scanner a bit frightening. You can remain with your child in the room during the exam to offer comfort and reassurance. We will ask you to wear a lead apron to protect you from unnecessary exposure to radiation. We can also arrange to have a child life specialist at the appointment to help your child better cope with the stress of this exam.

Are there any risks?

CT exams use more radiation than regular X-ray exams. If the exam is medically necessary, the risk is small compared to the benefit of an accurate diagnosis or intervention. A very small number of people are allergic to the contrast agent and develop allergy symptoms (hives, itching, red skin). Severe allergic reactions are very uncommon, and we are well-equipped to deal with them.

After the exam

After the exam your child can immediately resume normal activities. If your child was sedated, you will be asked to wait in the imaging area until they are reasonably alert.

A radiologist will analyze the CT images and will share the results with the doctor who requested the exam, who will then discuss the results with you.