Having your scan

This information tells you about having a CT scan with us (following referral by your doctor) and aims to answer any questions you might have.

Please read this information carefully and if you have any questions or concerns then contact us on 01923 886311 between 9am and 5pm Monday to Friday.

What is a CT scan?

CT (Computed Tomography) is a scanning technique which uses X-rays and a computer to create a series of cross-sectional images of structures inside the body, including the internal organs, blood vessels and bone.

The images may be useful in diagnosing illness, guiding further tests or treatments, and monitoring existing conditions.

The CT scanner is a large, quiet machine with a large, 78cm deep ring. You will need to be able to lie on your back on the scanning couch, which will move you through the ring.


What are the risks of having a CT?

The scan involves exposure to radiation in the form of X-rays. With our modern CT scanner our aim is to ensure that if you have a scan with us the benefits from making the correct diagnosis or receiving treatment outweigh any risk involved with the CT scan itself.

To ensure that the radiation dose you receive is kept as low as is possible, our radiographers and medical physics experts perform regular maintenance checks. If there are any technical problems during a scan you will be informed.

Things we need to know before your scan

Please inform us in advance of your scan if the answer to any of the following is yes:

  • You are pregnant or think that you are
  • You have a port device or PICC line
  • You have kidney problems
  • You are allergic to iodine or have experienced a previous reaction to any contrast media.
  • You weigh over 130kg or 20 stone
  • You have any other needs regarding disabilities or mobility
  • You need hospital transport
  • You need an interpreter
  • You are claustrophobic
  • You require a chaperone

Preparing for your scan

Unfortunately we’re unable to give sedatives or painkillers. If you do need something to calm your nerves or reduce pain, please speak to your doctor in advance and follow their advice closely.

If you’ve taken a sedative, you must bring someone with you to your appointment.

On the day

  • Paul Strickland Scanner Centre opens at 7.30am. Please report to the reception area.
  • Feel free to bring a friend or helper with you but they will have to wait in the waiting room during the scan.
  • You can take all your usual medicines unless otherwise instructed.
  • If you have any queries before 9am please phone 01923 886310. After 9am phone 01923 886311
  • If you are unable to attend, please telephone us at the earliest opportunity. Every attempt is made to scan patients on time, although delays may occur due to unforeseen circumstances. We will let you know as soon as possible if we expect delays.
  • If the scan is of your neck, chest, abdomen, pelvis, hips, upper legs or knees, wear warm, loose, metal-free clothing or bring a dressing gown.
  • You will need to remove any jewellery from the area being scanned.

CT contrast medium drink

For some examinations it may be necessary for you to drink some fluid known as contrast medium, either 30 minutes or 1 hour prior to the scan. This will either be water or a white liquid containing barium. It is used to highlight your stomach and bowel on the scan images. The staff will bring this to you and explain how and when to drink it.

CT contrast medium injection

Many CT examinations require an injection of contrast medium (sometimes called X-ray dye). This contains iodine and is not radioactive. It helps the radiologist (the specialist doctor who looks at your scans) to clearly see the blood vessels and other structures inside your body.

Prior to the injection we will perform a number of safety checks.

We will review your most recent blood test results to check your kidney function. Ideally this blood test should be performed in the 3 months prior to the appointment date. The test results will tell us if it’s safe to give you the injection.

If you haven’t had a recent blood test, please contact your referring doctor or their secretary to arrange for this to be done.

We will ask you to complete a safety questionnaire in order to identify any other risks such as the risk of an allergic-type reaction to the contrast medium.

If you are allergic to iodine or have had a previous reaction to contrast medium when having scans or X-rays, please inform us.

Reactions are rare and if experienced are generally mild such as an itchy rash which should settle down by itself. Sometimes you may feel slightly nauseous for a few minutes.

Radiographers and doctors are trained to recognise these reactions and treat them.

If we decide it is unsafe to give the injection we usually still perform the scan without the injection, however sometimes we arrange for you to have a different type of scan as an alternative.

Before you go into the scan room, the radiographer will insert a cannula - a small tube - into a vein in your arm through which the contrast medium is administered.

If you have a port or PICC line sited, we may be able to use this instead of a cannula. The staff will need to see evidence of the ID card for the port to ensure that it is safe and appropriate for us to use.

The contrast medium is injected when you are in the scanner room as part of the scan procedure. When the injection starts, you may experience a hot flush and metallic taste in the mouth, and a false sensation that you are about to wet yourself. This is normal and will pass very quickly.

Rarely during an injection, the contrast medium can leak outside of the vein causing temporary swelling and discomfort in the arm. This is unlikely to happen but if it does we will give you further instructions and advice.

Having your CT scan

You will be taken into the scanner room where the radiographer will explain the CT examination to you and what to expect. Please ask them any questions that you may have about the scan.

  • Head or neck: Your head will be positioned in a head rest. You will be moved head-first into the scanner.
  • Chest, abdomen and pelvis: Your arms will be positioned above your head. You will be moved head-first into the scanner and be asked to follow some breathing instructions during the scan.
    Arm: You will lie with your affected limb raised above your head and immobilised with small pads to help you stay in the correct position during the scan. You will be moved head-first into the scanner.
  • Leg: You will lie with your affected limb immobilised with small pads to help you stay in the correct position during the scan. You will be moved feet-first into the scanner. The radiographer will operate the scanner from the adjacent room. They can see and hear you at all times via a window and an intercom. The scanner is not noisy and the procedure should not be painful.

You will be in the scanner room for up to 15 minutes. During this time you may have up to 5 short scans and you will not be in the scanner ring itself for any longer than a few seconds at a time.

After the scan

You can leave immediately after the scan unless you have had an injection of contrast medium. Then the cannula will be removed and you will be asked to remain in the hospital for up to 20 minutes before leaving in case you experience a delayed reaction to the contrast medium.

It is advisable to increase the amount of fluids you drink for the rest of the day.

If you are breastfeeding you should wait 24 hours after the contrast medium injection before you breastfeed again. Please express and discard the milk during this time period.

Your feedback

We strive to provide our patients with world-class scanning facilities, clinical excellence and opportunities to take part in innovative health research studies.

We welcome your feedback. Please complete one of our comments cards during your visit, which will help us improve our service.

Where to get more information

Visit the NHS Choices website (www.nhs.uk/Conditions/CT-scan) or ring us (01923 886311) during office hours if you’ve got any further questions.

For a short video about having a CT scan, visit www.rcr.ac.uk/public-and-media/what-expect-when

Getting your results

Your scan will be reported by a radiologist and the report will be sent back to the doctor who referred you, in time for your next outpatient appointment. You will not be told the results of your scan at the time of your appointment.

If you do not have another outpatient appointment arranged and you do not hear anything about the results within three weeks, we suggest you telephone the referring doctor’s secretary for advice.

Travel and parking information