Your doctor writes you a script for a CT scan, and you probably don’t even stop to think about what this imaging test is, or realize that your health is about to benefit from the medical marvel that is before you.
Now commonplace, the CT scanning technology has evolved over the last 40 years to offer highly precise multi-dimensional images of the body that help medical experts diagnose and treat an array of serious conditions with a level of accuracy and speed like never seen before.
Ted Cardoso, MD, medical director of radiology at Florida Hospital Wesley Chapel, provides some history of the CT scan, explains what a CT scan does and why it’s so important to your health.
What CT scans do
Computed Tomography (CT) imaging is also known as Computed Axial Tomography (CAT) scanning. Let’s break it down.
In this case, the word “computed” means that highly sophisticated computer software is used to analyze the x-ray images produced by the CT scan machine. These programs allow radiologists to take each picture, or “slice,” generated and rotate it front to back, view it straight on or zoom in on such a sophisticated level of detail that’s quite remarkable.
“Axial” refers to an anatomical plane of the body, with cross-sections head to toe. In a CT scan, multiple sections of images with depth are generated in the axial plane through a technique called “tomography,” which displays a cross section through a human body or other solid object using x-rays.
As a result, you get multiple, highly detailed pictures of the human body in seconds.
The benefit of CT scans over traditional x-rays
“A CT scan is essentially an x-ray, but a much more advanced one at that,” says Dr. Cardoso.
“Think of a traditional x-ray as a pair of magnifying glasses or binoculars, and the CT scan as a telescope,” he adds.
While x-rays provide only two-dimensional images, with a flat picture of all body structures superimposed on top of one another on one plane, the CT scan allows you to arrange the x-rays so that they rotate around the patient to capture images in multiple sections at many different angles of the body.
That’s why for a CT scan, you lay on a table and the donut-shaped machine has an x-ray tube that moves around you. It rotates around the body up to 360 degrees, allowing up to 360 individual pictures of the body to be taken at slightly different positions.
And with today’s software that uses very advanced algebra to add and subtract densities at different angles, Dr. Cardoso proclaims that there are much more “knowns” than “unknowns” for radiologists in reading CT scan images.
“Now, you can generate an incredible amount of information about specific areas of the body — and particularly imperfections — than you could before.”
Advancements in CT scan technology
Invented in the 1970s in England, CT scans were initially used to generate images of the brain. Before this time, there was no way to get a glimpse of the body’s soft tissues or structures, like tumors, infection, blood, etc.
But now, CT scans are used in multiple subspecialties of medicine. “CT scans are critical in the evaluation and diagnosis of head trauma or headaches, stroke, cancer, blood clots, pneumonia, appendicitis and complex fractures, just to name a few,” says Dr. Cardoso.
He explains that in some major medical centers, CT scans are even being used as mobile units in ambulances to get immediate images of patients who are suspected of suffering from a stroke.
Considering the fact that the first-generation CT scan took minutes to scan just one cross-section of the body, today’s CT scans have advanced exponentially to scan the entire body and produce hundreds of images in mere seconds. “It’s rare for a CT scan to last more than five minutes,” says Dr. Cardoso.
He explains that CT scans are also evolving to produce not just three, but four dimensions, adding “time” to the bigger diagnostic picture. “In tumors, we can do CT scans with or without contrast to see how they present over time; we can see changes in blood supply to assess effectiveness of treatments, for example.”
Imaging at Florida Hospital
“As a part of the Florida Hospital network, we truly have some of the most advanced imaging equipment and software that supports our mission to provide the best patient care possible at Florida Hospital Wesley Chapel,” says Dr. Cardoso.
“Our goal is to provide the highest quality imaging service to our patients, and our technology, expert radiologists and network of physician specialists to consult with for any patient’s case is how we do that.”
Florida Hospital offers an extensive range of convenient, comprehensive and leading-edge imaging services throughout many inpatient and outpatient imaging locations in Florida. If you have an imaging test to complete before your health insurance deductibles reset in the new year, consider allowing our leading imaging experts to help you. Learn more about Florida Hospital’s imaging services.