What Is a CT Scan?

CT, or computed tomography, is a noninvasive diagnostic imaging tool that uses X-rays and computerized “detectors” that rotate around the body. The X-rays pass through your body and are absorbed by the detectors. The scanner’s specialized computer system then creates detailed images of your organs, blood vessels, and soft tissues.

While a traditional X-ray creates a two-dimensional image, a CT scan captures a more detailed three-dimensional image. The advanced level of detail helps doctors view the inside of your body from multiple angles (also called slices).

Why Choose University of Utah Health?

When you come to U of U Health for a CT (computed tomography) scan, you’ll experience our renowned excellence in patient care. We pride ourselves on:

  • World-class team: Our board-certified and fellowship-trained radiologists have years of experience choosing the right imaging for all medical conditions. Along with our nurses and technologists, they perform and read over 250,000 imaging exams each year. This high volume results in expert diagnosis of common and rare conditions.
  • Highest standards of care: U of U Health CT services is accredited by the American College of Radiologists (ACR). This accreditation recognizes our commitment to maintaining the highest standards of education, research, and radiological care. 
  • State-of-the-art diagnostic equipment: We use the most advanced technology and services to ensure precise and accurate imaging. Our Dual Source 128 CT scanner has two X-ray tubes that capture images in just one second. This scanner helps us accommodate patients who can't lie still or hold their breath for longer. The same scanner can also take advanced images of the heart between beats. 
  • Dedication to health and safety: We take every step to significantly reduce the amount of radiation required for CT scans. Our Siemens CARE Dose4D technology automatically adjusts the radiation dose by as much as half of conventional doses. You get the same top-quality CT imaging with less risk.

CT Scan Versus MRI

You may wonder if your doctor will order a CT scan or a different kind of imaging, such as MRI (magnetic resonance imaging). Both techniques produce detailed pictures of organs and tissues inside the body. An MRI uses magnets and radio waves instead of X-rays. 

When choosing which diagnostic scan to use, your doctor considers which body part needs imaging. Your doctor will use the details of your case to decide whether CT or MRI is right for you.

Do I Need a CT Scan with Contrast?

Depending on your symptoms and the body area that needs imaging, your CT exam may include contrast or dye. The contrast shows more details of disease in blood vessels and certain organs.

There are two types of contrast used in a CT exam:

  • Intravenous or injection — The contrast substance contains iodine. This dense mineral absorbs the X-rays, creating more detailed views of internal structures.
  • Oral contrast — You swallow a liquid containing barium, a naturally occurring metallic substance. The liquid mixture moves through the body and blocks X-rays from passing through organs like the stomach, intestines, and esophagus. A CT scan with a barium contrast produces highly detailed images to detect disease in these organs.

What Are the Side Effects of Contrast Dye after a CT Scan? 

An allergic reaction to the contrast is rare, occurring in only 1 in every 1000 patients. Every patient at U of U Health undergoes a thorough screening before diagnostic radiology exams. This evaluation ensures we know about preexisting medical conditions, allergies, or pregnancy. 

Learn about how to prepare for your CT Scan with contrast.

What to Expect at Your CT Scan

Your CT scan will be performed by one of our radiology technologists. The exam is quick, usually only a few minutes or even just seconds. 

Before the exam, you will undergo screening and receive personalized instructions. When you arrive for the CT exam, you will:

  • change into a comfortable hospital gown and remove any jewelry or metal that might interfere with the imaging. 
  • lie motionless on a table while the donut-shaped CT scanner quickly rotates around your body to capture the 3D images. 

Your doctor will receive the CT scan results within two business days and will review the findings with you. CT scan results are also available online for patients with MyChart.

How to Schedule at CT Scan

If your doctor feels you need a CT scan, they will make a referral to our department. Once this referral is made, a member of our radiology services team will contact you to schedule the scan. 

Referring Providers

U of U Health Radiology Services uses state-of-the-art technology to diagnose and treat disease. We provide fast and convenient access to your patient’s imaging records through our secure online portal. Please see our imaging referral page for complete details.