You can download the Brain and Spine Scans fact sheet as a pdf file.
Why do I need a CT scan?
A brain or spine scan is an investigation. Your doctor or specialist will refer you for a scan and use the results to assist them in making a diagnosis.
There are two main types of brain scan and spine scan: CT scans and MRI scans.
What is a CT scan?
A CT scan is a Computerised Tomography scan. It is a special type of X-ray using a scanner and computer equipment to take pictures of the brain or spine.
It differs from a standard X-ray as it produces pictures of cross-sections of the brain or spine.
What happens before a CT scan?
You will need to remove glasses, jewellery, hair slides, dental braces and dentures with metal plates before the scan. It is important to tell the staff if you are pregnant or think you might be.
What happens during a CT scan?
You will be asked to lie on a scanner table. You should mention if you are uncomfortable because it is important that you are able to keep still during the scan.
When you are comfortable and ready, the staff will leave the room. They will continue to talk with you using an intercom.
The scanner table then moves through the scanner to take the first picture. The scanner rotates in small movements around your head to take further pictures. Up to 30 pictures might be taken during one session.
A CT scan is a painless procedure and usually takes 20 minutes or longer.
Will I need injections for a CT scan?
For both CT scans and MRI scans, you might need an injection or injections as part of the procedure. This will be discussed with you before your scan. A dye is injected into the back of your hand or into the crook of your elbow and flows around your bloodstream to highlight the blood vessels in your brain or spine. This helps to produce more detailed pictures. It might mean that the procedure takes longer than usual.
What happens after a CT scan?
There are no after-effects from either scan so you will not need any time to recover and can resume your normal activities immediately.
When will I get the results?
You should ask the staff in the radiology department about your results. The availability of the results will differ for each individual. For example, they might be sent to your GP, sent to the ward (if you are staying in hospital), or be sent to your specialist.
Radiology Department Staff
Radiographers: The people who carry out the scan. Radiographers are specially trained to use the scanning equipment.
Radiologists: Specialist doctors who interpret the scans. Radiologists write reports to be sent to the doctor or specialist who requested the scan.
Radiology nurses and Neuroradiology nurses: Specialist nurses working in the radiology department.
Other types of brain and spine scan
There are other special types of brain and spine scan. Different hospitals have different scanning equipment and the type of scan you have will depend on your individual situation and what scanning equipment is available in your hospital. Different types of scan are being used increasingly as scanning technology develops.
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This information was last checked in September 2015. Due for review in September 2018.
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