Like an MRI, a CT scan is a non-invasive procedure to see the organs inside of your body. Though an MRI and CT scan share many similarities, these procedures are entirely different from one another. Knowing the difference between an MRI and CT scan can help you make the right decision if you need an imaging test.

What Is a CT Scan?

CT stands for computerized tomography. A CT scan uses X-ray technology to take a series of photos from different angles around your body. Like an MRI, it can provide your doctor with a clear view of your internal structures, including bones, soft tissues, and blood vessels.

The machine used to perform a CT scan is a large structure that looks like a round donut standing on its side. During a CT scan, your doctor will have you lie on a narrow table, which is then moved into an opening in the side of the machine. Then, the X-ray will rotate around your body inside the donut to take a series of cross-sectional images of the inside of your body.

There are several types of CT scans, reports the NIH. If you need a CT scan, your doctor may recommend one of the following tests:

  • Abdominal and pelvis CT scan
  • Cranial or head CT scan
  • Spinal CT scan for the cervical spine (the seven vertebrae that begin at the base of the skull), thoracic spine (the spine in the upper back and abdomen), and the lumbosacral spine (the lower spine and surrounding tissues)
  • Orbit CT scan (a scan of the eye sockets (orbits), eyes, and surrounding bones)
  • Chest CT scan

CT Scan: What Are the Pros and Cons?

A CT scan is highly effective for evaluating your entire body and helping your doctor determine the stage of cancer. Cancer staging and diagnosis are among the top uses of a CT scan. It is also suitable for evaluating tiny bone structures such as those in the hands and feet and at evaluating chest and lung conditions.

A CT scan is often less costly than an MRI and usually takes no more than 30 minutes. Many doctors choose CT scans over MRIs in emergencies such as car accidents. This is because CT scans are significantly faster to perform than an MRI and can evaluate all internal structures within a shorter time.

CT scans are far quieter and do not cause hearing problems compared with MRIs. CT scans are also preferable among those who are claustrophobic or anxious because the machine is more open and the X-ray device circles around the patient.

The main disadvantage to having a CT scan is that it exposes your body to radiation. However, the NIH says that the risk of damage from radiation during one CT scan is minimal. People who have multiple CT scans over time may be at higher risk for radiation.

Other cons associated with having a CT scan include harming an unborn baby, kidney damage, or an allergic reaction to the contrast dye. Like MRIs, most CT scans involve contrast dye to allow your internal structures to appear more clearly in the images.

Preparing for a CT scan

Preparing for a CT scan differs depending on the exact scan your physician wishes to do. Remember to follow your doctor’s instructions before your exam. He may ask you to remove jewelry, wear a hospital robe, or even take laxatives or otherwise change your diet before the scan.

Some tests require that you receive a contrast medium before the exam. A contrast medium is a liquid that will help your doctor see blood vessels and other structures inside your body. The contrast medium may need to be swallowed, administered intravenously or administered in an enema depending on the type of test.

Computerized Tomography Procedures

Lompoc Valley Medical Center offers a multi-channel helical (or spiral) scanner to facilitate bone mineral analysis as well as the common CT procedures.

Some of the things a CT can be used for include:

  • Diagnose muscle and bone disorders, such as osteoporosis
  • Pinpoint the location of a tumor, infection or blood clot
  • Guide procedures such as surgery, biopsy and radiation therapy
  • Detect and monitor diseases such as cancer or heart disease, and monitor the progression of a disease
  • Detect internal injuries and internal bleeding
image of the machine

Our New PET/CT System, 2021

GE Discovery™ 64 Channel MI DR PET/CT

  • Improved scanning speed
  • Greater diagnostic accuracy for cancer patients
  • “One-stop-shop” diagnostic experience
  • LightBurst detector technology to improve scanning speed
  • Non-invasive, safe, painless
  • Enables cardiac screening
Available at Lompoc Valley Medical Center

1515 E Ocean Ave, Lompoc, CA

Outpatient Services Monday - Friday
5 am – 7 pm
Sat - Sun
5 am – 5 pm
Emergency Services Everyday
24/7

(805) 737-3300

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