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Computed Tomography (CT) Scan of the Spine

What Affects the Test

The following may stop you from having the test or may change the test results:

  • Pregnancy. CT scans are not usually done during pregnancy.
  • Barium and bismuth used for another test. These substances show up on a CT scan. If a CT scan of the lower back is needed, it should be done before any tests that use barium, such as a barium enema.
  • Metal objects in the body. These items, such as surgical clips or metal in joint replacements, may prevent a clear view of the body area.
  • You are not able to lie still during the test.

What To Think About

  • Sometimes your CT test results may be different than those from other types of X-ray tests, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), or ultrasound scans, because the CT scan provides a different view.
  • Children who need a CT scan may need special instructions for the test. If the child is too young to hold still or is afraid, the doctor may give the child a medicine (sedative) to help him or her relax.
  • If your child is scheduled for a CT scan, talk with your child's doctor about the need for the scan and the risk of radiation exposure to your child.
  • CT results are often compared to positron emission tomography (PET) results to help find cancer. Some new scanners do both scans at the same time.
  • MRI may give more information than a CT scan about the spinal discs and spinal cord. To learn more, see the topic Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI).
  • When a CT scan of the spine is done with a myelogram, it is called a CT myelogram. An MRI of the spine is often done in place of a CT myelogram. To learn more, see the topic Myelogram.

Citations

  1. Einstein AJ, et al. (2007). Estimating risk of cancer associated with radiation exposure from 64-slice computed tomography coronary angiography. JAMA, 298(3): 317–323.

Other Works Consulted

  • Fischbach FT, Dunning MB III, eds. (2009). Manual of Laboratory and Diagnostic Tests, 8th ed. Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams and Wilkins.

  • Pagana KD, Pagana TJ (2010). Mosby’s Manual of Diagnostic and Laboratory Tests, 4th ed. St. Louis: Mosby.

  • U.S. Food and Drug Administration (2008). FDA preliminary public health notification: Possible malfunction of electronic medical devices caused by computed tomography (CT) scanning. Available online: http://www.fda.gov/cdrh/safety/071408-ctscanning.html.

ByHealthwise Staff
Primary Medical ReviewerAdam Husney, MD - Family Medicine
Specialist Medical ReviewerHoward Schaff, MD - Diagnostic Radiology
Last RevisedSeptember 21, 2012
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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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