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Computed Tomography (CT) Scan of the Spine

How It Feels

The test will not cause pain. The table you lie on may feel hard, and the room may be cool. It may be hard to lie still during the test.

Some people feel nervous inside the CT scanner.

If you get medicine to help you relax or if contrast material is used, you may have an IV put in your hand or arm. You may feel a quick sting or pinch when the IV is started. The dye may make you feel warm and flushed and give you a metallic taste in your mouth. Some people feel sick to their stomach or get a headache. Tell the technologist or your doctor how you are feeling.

If you have dye put in your back, you may feel a sting or pinch when the needle is put in.

After a test in which the dye is put in your back, you will be told to keep your head up and to not bend over or lie flat. This will help prevent headaches and seizures.

Risks

The chance of a CT scan causing a problem is small.

  • There is a chance of an allergic reaction to the contrast material.
  • If you have diabetes or take metformin (Glucophage), the dye may cause problems. Your doctor will tell you when to stop taking metformin and when to start taking it again after the test so you will not have problems.
  • You may have nausea or vomiting after the test.
  • There is a small chance of an infection at the needle site on your spine or bleeding into the space around the spinal cord.
  • An injection into the space around the spinal cord may cause a headache. Rarely, seizures may occur after an injection of contrast material.
  • There is a small chance of developing cancer from having some types of CT scans.1 The chance is higher in children, young adults, and people who have many radiation tests. If you are concerned about this risk, talk to your doctor about the amount of radiation this test may give you or your child, and confirm that the test is needed.

Results

A computed tomography (CT) scan uses X-rays to make detailed pictures camera.gif of the spine and vertebrae camera.gif in the neck (cervical spine), upper back (thoracic spine), or lower back (lumbosacral spine).

Complete results usually are ready for your doctor in 1 to 2 days.

CT scan of the spine
Normal:

Spinal bones (vertebrae) are normal in shape, number, and alignment.

The discs and joints that support the spine are normal.

The spinal canal is normal in size and shape.

If contrast material is used, it flows evenly through the spinal canal. No narrowing or blockage of the spinal canal is present.

None of the nerves leaving the spinal cord are compressed or pinched. No growths or bulges are present.

Abnormal:

Spinal bones (vertebrae) are missing, damaged, or out of alignment.

One or more discs may be damaged. One or more herniated discs camera.gif are found.

The flow of contrast material through the spinal canal is restricted or blocked, indicating narrowing of the canal (spinal stenosis).

The vertebrae show signs of arthritis or bone problems caused by osteoporosis.

A condition that has been present from birth (congenital condition) is present in the spine or the vertebrae.

An abscess or spinal tumor is found.

WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: September 21, 2012
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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