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Scripps Clinic Torrey Pines
10666 North Torrey Pines Rd
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858-554-7988

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Spine Tests: CT Scan (Computerized Tomography)

CT Scan: Superior Images than X-Ray
Computerized tomography (CT or CAT scans) combines x-ray science with computer technology to produce more focused and informative images than traditional x-rays. CT scans produce clear pictures of bone, soft tissue, organs, intervertebral discs and the spinal cord. The images can be reproduced in black/gray/white tones or color. To enhance the image, a contrast medium (dye) can be injected into the patient during the test.

CT Scan

At the San Diego Center for Spinal Disorders (SDCSD), we use CT scans to diagnose various spinal disorders including herniated or bulging discs, infection, fractures, tumor, nerve impingement, and other conditions.

CT scans expose patients to significant levels of radiation. These levels are carefully monitored, and patient safety is always ensured. However, the radiation exposure is a concern, and as a result our physicians will only order a CT scan when it is an essential step in the diagnostic process.

Equipment Components
The CT machine resembles a huge donut. A padded movable table, on which the patient lies, slides in and out of the donut hole. A large movable ring inside the donut houses the x-ray and detector equipment. This ring spirals around the patient during the test to create specific "slices" or pictures of anatomy.

How it Works
During the scan a series of x-rays are directed at specific angles through the body part being examined. A detector on the opposite side transmits the scan details to a computer, which analyzes the data and renders cross-sectional images of that body part. The cross-sectional images or "slices" are called tomograms. The images can be displayed on a monitor, stored as computer files or printed on ordinary x-ray film.

What to Expect
A CT Scan requires no special physical preparation. The patient does not need to restrict food or fluids prior to the test, unless a contrast medium (dye) will be used. If a contrast agent is to be used, the patient will be given individualized pre-test instructions.

The patient will be asked to remove jewelry or other metal objects and change into a medical gown.

The patient is positioned on the CT table and gently strapped into place to restrict movement. The patient is covered with a blanket (if cold) and the table is slid into the opening of the scanner. It is important that the patient remain as still as possible during the scan.

Patients who are claustrophobic may be given a mild sedative. Often, patients are offered a headset to listen to music as the scanner makes noise during rotation.

Adjacent to the room in which the CT scanner is located is the technician's area. The technician is able to see and communicate with the patient through a large window during the entire procedure. The test takes about 30 to 60 minutes.