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“CT” stands for computed tomography. Computed tomography is a way to examine internal organs without surgery. The scan uses X-rays to take lots of different pictures of the organs, and then uses a computer to put all the images together. As a result, doctors can see cross-sectional images of things inside the body. You might also hear doctors refer to this test as an “abdominal CT” or “CAT scan”.
An abdominal CT scan is done to study the organs and blood flow within the abdomen for signs of injuries, tumors, or other disease. If your child is being evaluated for a pediatric transplant procedure, he or she may have a CT scan.
Your doctor may recommend an abdominal CT scan if your child has the following symptoms:
To screen for liver disease if a liver transplant may be necessary, your child may be given a contrast dye. If this is the case, your child should not eat or drink anything for four hours before the exam.
Your child will be asked to remove any jewelry, watches, and other items he or she might be wearing that contain metal. Your child will wear a hospital gown for the abdominal CT scan.
If a contrast dye is needed, it is either injected into a vein, or your child will drink it in the form of a barium solution. He or she will be positioned on a special movable table (called a gantry) part-way inside the CT scanner, which is usually doughnut-shaped. When it is time for the scan to begin, the technician leaves the room. He or she maintains verbal contact with your child through a two-way intercom.
The gantry advances very slowly through the CT scanner. It is important for your child to stay very still during the entire test. As the scanner takes pictures, your child will hear some humming and clicking. The technician will ask your child to hold his or her breath at certain points, so that the picture is not blurred by movement.
Anesthesia is not given for CT scans. Like X-rays, they are painless. However, many younger children do need to receive sedation so they can remain calm and still for the full duration of the test. The scan itself will not hurt, although your child may feel restless. If your child receives an injection of contrast dye, he or she may feel flushed, and possibly notice a salty or metallic taste in his or her mouth. Some people experience brief nausea as the dye circulates.
Your child will be able to talk to the technician and/or doctor during the exam. It may help for your child to remember that if at any point he or she feels pain, fear, or becomes concerned in any way, he or she can communicate this immediately. A CT scan of the abdomen takes anywhere between ten and sixty minutes, depending on how much area must be scanned and how much detail is required.
If your child received contrast dye, have him or her drink extra fluids to flush it out more quickly. Aside from that, your child will be able to go back to normal activities. Unless your child is already an inpatient at the hospital for another reason, there is no hospital stay involved.
Very rarely, people have allergic reactions to the contrast dye. Doctors and technicians will know what to do in the event your child does have this type of reaction.
Like any X-ray, women who are or think they might be pregnant should not have a CT scan. Other than this situation, CT scan complications are fairly uncommon. The small amount of radiation each patient is exposed to is less than one would be exposed to on a transatlantic airplane flight.
Be sure to contact your child’s doctor right away if your child has had contrast dye and experiences:
The radiologist will study your abdominal CT scan and a report will be sent to your doctor. Your doctor should be able to spot any abnormalities in the organs and/or tissues within your abdomen. He or she can suggest treatments based on the findings.
It can take time for test results to come through. How long will depend on why you are having the scan. It may take a few days to a couple of weeks. When results are needed urgently, this is noted. Urgent reports are given top priority, and will take less time to come back.
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Learn about other Liver Transplant Tests.
Children's Hospital's main campus is located in the Lawrenceville neighborhood. Our main hospital address is:
UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh
One Children’s Hospital Way
4401 Penn Ave.
Pittsburgh, PA 15224
In addition to the main hospital, Children's has many convenient locations in other neighborhoods throughout the greater Pittsburgh region.
With myCHP, you can request appointments, review test results, and more.
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Interested in giving to Children's Hospital? Support the hospital by making a donation online, joining our Heroes in Healing monthly donor program, or visiting our site to learn about the other ways you can give back.