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Computed Tomography (CT) Scan of the Spine

A CT scan uses X-rays to make detailed pictures camera.gif of the spine and vertebrae camera.gif.

During the test, you will lie on a table that is attached to the CT scanner, which is a large doughnut-shaped machine. The CT scanner sends X-rays through the body. Each rotation of the scanner takes a second and provides a picture of a thin slice of the organ or area being studied. One part of the scanning machine can tilt to follow the curve of your spine. All of the pictures are saved as a group on a computer. They also can be printed.

In some cases, a dye called contrast material may be put in a vein (IV) in your arm or into the spinal canal. The dye makes structures and organs easier to see on the CT pictures. The dye may be used to check blood flow and look for tumors, areas of inflammation, or nerve damage.

Why It Is Done

A CT scan of the spine is done to:

  • Look at the bones of the spine (vertebrae).
  • Find problems of the spine, such as tumors, fractures, deformities, infection, or narrowing of the spinal canal (spinal stenosis).
  • Find a herniated disc camera.gif of the spine.
  • Check to see if osteoporosis has caused compression fractures.
  • Check on problems of the spine that have been present since birth (congenital).
  • Look at problems seen during a standard X-ray test.
  • Check how well spinal surgery or therapy is working for a spine problem.

How To Prepare

Before the CT scan, tell your doctor if you:

  • Are or might be pregnant.
  • Are allergic to any medicines, including iodine dyes.
  • Have a heart condition, such as heart failure.
  • Have diabetes or take metformin (Glucophage) for your diabetes. You may have to adjust your medicine for a day before and after the test.
  • Have had kidney problems.
  • Have asthma.
  • Have had multiple myeloma.
  • Have had an X-ray test using barium contrast material (such as a barium enema) in the past 4 days. Barium shows up on X-ray films and makes it hard to see the picture clearly.
  • Become very nervous in small spaces. You need to lie still inside the CT scanner, so you may need a sedative to help you relax.

Arrange for someone to take you home in case you get a sedative for the test.

Talk to your doctor about any concerns you have regarding the need for the test, its risks, or how it will be done. To help you understand the importance of this test, fill out the medical test information form(What is a PDF document?).

How It Is Done

A CT scan is usually done by a radiology technologist. The pictures are usually read by a doctor (radiologist). Other doctors also may review a CT scan.

WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: June 05, 2013
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.

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