What Is a Brain CT Scan?

N. Madison
N. Madison

A brain Computerized Tomography (CT) scan is a diagnostic test that involves the use of radiological equipment to obtain images of a person’s brain. Unlike some other types of diagnostic tests, this scan does not require injecting anything into the patient or removing anything from his body. Instead, the radiology equipment captures images of different portions of a person’s brain. A special computer then uses all of the images to create a three-dimensional depiction.

A brain CT scan obtains images of a person's brain.
A brain CT scan obtains images of a person's brain.

Patients usually receive this type of scan while they are dressed in regular clothing or a hospital gown. For comfort’s sake, however, patients are usually asked to wear loose clothing on the day of the scan. Hair adornments, accessories, and even glasses that are made of metal can impede the scan and must be removed. The patient is usually asked to lie down on a table for the brain CT scan, and then the table slides into a hole in a large machine called a CT scanner. The machine's radiographic equipment moves and takes the required images while the patient lies still.

CT scans of the brain do not require any kind of injection.
CT scans of the brain do not require any kind of injection.

Doctors order this type of scan when they need to diagnose or assess illnesses, injuries, or conditions that affect a patient’s brain. For example, a doctor may recommend a brain CT scan if a patient has severe or persistent headaches or if he suffers from seizures, mental confusion, or persistent feelings of dizziness. A doctor may also recommend this type of scan if a patient has suffered an injury involving his head, has a suspected infection that can affect the brain, or has signs of brain cancer. Sometimes a brain CT scan is also required to help determine why a person has been behaving in an abnormal manner or to evaluate a birth defect that involves the brain.

A brain CT scan uses images to create a three-dimensional depiction of the brain.
A brain CT scan uses images to create a three-dimensional depiction of the brain.

Since there are no needles involved with a brain CT scan, most people do not find them uncomfortable. If a person is claustrophobic, however, lying in the tunnel-like chamber of the CT scanner can prove uncomfortable for him. Likewise, some people find it difficult to lie still for the duration of the procedure, though it typically lasts for only about 15 minutes. Sometimes patients are asked to swallow a special liquid called a contrast dye that aids in the creation of clear brain images. The contrast fluid may have an unpleasant taste and some people report feeling flushed, itchy, or bloated after they drink it.

A brain CT scan can be used to diagnose or assess illnesses.
A brain CT scan can be used to diagnose or assess illnesses.
A neurologist may order a brain CT scan in order to assess a patient who reports severe and persistent headaches.
A neurologist may order a brain CT scan in order to assess a patient who reports severe and persistent headaches.
N. Madison
N. Madison

Nicole’s thirst for knowledge inspired her to become a wiseGEEK writer, and she focuses primarily on topics such as homeschooling, parenting, health, science, and business. When not writing or spending time with her four children, Nicole enjoys reading, camping, and going to the beach.

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