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Cranium Chest and Spine Computerized Axial Tomography

What is a cranium, chest and spine computerized axial tomography?

  • A computed axial tomography scan is also called a CT scan or CAT scan. This procedure takes pictures of parts of your body such as your cranium (skull), chest, and spine. The scan shows bones, tissues, and blood vessels in these body areas. Each picture, also called a slice, shows a few layers of your body tissue at a time.
  • Dye or contrast may be used during the scan to help your tissues and blood vessels show up clearly. Having a CT scan may help caregivers find and learn about a medical problem. A CT scan can help you and your caregiver plan the best treatment for the problem. If you are being treated for a disease or condition, a CT scan can show caregivers if the treatments are working.

Why may I need a CT scan of my cranium?

  • A CT scan may be done to look at the bones of your skull, or at your brain. A cranial CT scan may be done if you are in an accident where you hit your head. It can be done to check for a cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) leak, or an infection. A CT scan may also show brain tumors (growths), or areas in the brain with poor blood supply. A cranial CT scan can help caregivers learn if you have a stroke. A stroke can occur when blood is unable to reach an area of your brain.
  • Sinuses are air-filled spaces in the bones of the face. A CT scan may help caregivers learn if there is a tumor or swelling in the sinuses. Broken bones in the face may be found using a CT scan. If you have problems such as nosebleeds, a CT scan may find what is causing them. A CT scan may show a fracture, tumor, infection, or another problem with the eye sockets (orbits). After surgery or an injury to the face, a CT scan may show the amount of healing. Temporal bones are found on both sides of the skull. A CT scan will show tumors, swelling, or fractures in the temporal bones. A CT scan may also find inner ear disease, or the cause of hearing loss.

Why may I need a CT scan of my chest?

A chest CT scan may show problems in the airway or lungs. This may include a narrow airway, or a tumor or nodule (lump). A CT scan can show the type and size of a nodule, as well as where it is located in the chest. It can also show weakness in the walls of the airway, and airway problems that a person may have been born with.

Why may I need a CT scan of my spine?

A CT scan of the spine is used to check for spinal fractures and diseases. A CT of the spine may show nerves that are being pressed on, or tumors of the spine. It can also show if the bones of the spine (vertebrae) are in the right place.

What does a CT scan machine look like, and how does it work?

The CT scanner is a large square or round machine. It has a circular hole in the center with scanners around it. A table that you lie on goes through the CT scan machine during the procedure. During the scan, narrow, rotating x-ray beams pass through your body in a fan shape. The machine takes pictures of the inside of your body in slices. Caregivers can see the pictures on a computer screen.

What happens during a cranium, chest and spine CT scan?

  • Your caregiver may put an intravenous tube (IV) into your vein. Liquids are given through the IV, and medicine may be given to help you relax. If contrast (dye) is used, it will also be given through the IV. Your caregiver will tell you if you need to lie on your back or on your stomach. Your head may be held still using straps on your forehead and chin. Caregivers may watch how fast your heart is beating, how fast you are breathing, and your blood pressure. The CT scan table will be moved into the hole in the middle of the machine. You will hear clicking sounds as the machine moves and takes pictures.
    Computerized Axial Tomography Scan
  • You must lie still while the CT scan is being done. During a CT scan of your spine or chest, you may need to hold your breath for a few seconds. You may also need to avoid swallowing for a few seconds during a spine CT scan. If your CT scan is being done using contrast, pictures will be taken before and after the contrast is given. When the scan is done, the table will move out of the machine. Caregivers will explain the results of your CT scan to you.

Who may not be able to have a cranium, chest or spine CT scan?

People who have diabetes (high blood sugar) or kidney failure may not be able to have a CT scan. If you have a very bad allergy to contrast, you will not be able to have a CT scan using contrast. Caregivers may give you medicine before you have the scan if you have a mild allergy to contrast. If you have other allergies or asthma, you may be given medicine before having the CT scan. If you are female, tell caregivers if you are pregnant, or think that you might be, before having the scan.

What are the risks of having a CT scan of the cranium, chest, or spine?

  • The contrast used in a CT scan may cause skin itching, rashes, or trouble breathing. If you have diabetes, your risk of having kidney damage may increase if contrast is used. If you are female and pregnant, a CT scan may cause problems with your unborn baby. The radiation from a CT scan may increase your risk of getting cancer. Your eyes may be damaged. A CT scan may not show certain medical problems, or how bad medical problems are. It may also show problems that were not expected.
  • If you do not have a CT scan, your caregiver may not find or learn about your condition. If a medical problem is not found and treated, it may get worse. If you are being treated for a medical problem, a CT scan may show if treatments are working. Without the scan, caregivers may not know if treatments are working. Talk to caregivers if you have questions or concerns about CT scans of the skull, chest or spine.

Where can I find more information?

  • American College of Radiology
    1891 Preston White Drive
    Reston , VA 20191
    Web Address:

When should I call my caregiver?

Call your caregiver if:

  • Your skin is itchy, swollen, or has a rash.
  • You have questions about the results of your scan, or your medicine.
  • Your signs and symptoms, such as headaches or trouble breathing, are getting worse.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your caregivers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment.

Learn more about Cranium Chest and Spine Computerized Axial Tomography

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Further information

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.