Every minute of the day, your child’s organs, bones, and tissues are hard at work to keep them healthy. Their heart is pumping blood to the rest of their body, their lungs are taking in oxygen-rich air, their kidneys are getting rid of any waste — all of these jobs are essential to your child’s health.
Sometimes, an injury or illness can cause complications inside their body, and physicians will need a closer look. Fortunately, advancements in medical technology have made this possible using a computerized tomography scan — or a CT scan.
A CT scan takes detailed pictures of your child’s body by using a combination of X-rays and a computer to create cross-sectional pictures of their organs, bones, and other tissues. It can be used to help diagnose the reasons for abdominal pain or evaluate the extent of an injury — all in less than 5 minutes.
Every year, roughly 5 to 9 million CT scans are performed on children in the US. The detailed images allow your child’s physician to diagnose a wide range of conditions and properly treat them.
What happens during a CT scan?
It can be helpful for you and your child to know exactly what’s going to happen during their CT scan. During their CT scan, the following steps will occur:
- A child life specialist or radiology nurse will meet with you and your child to help explain the procedure in a way your child can understand, show you pictures of the camera and room the procedure will occur in, and help your child develop a positive coping plan.
- A radiology tech will bring you and your child into the CT room. Two adults will be allowed to stay with your child. If you’re pregnant, however, you will be unable to stay in during the CT scan because the X-ray may pose a slight risk to the baby. If you’re planning on bringing other children with you, make sure you have one adult to stay in the waiting area with them.
- Once your child is in the CT scan, your child will see a red light shining down from the machine. This will help the radiology tech get your child in the correct position. A seat belt will be placed across their body.
- The bed will move through the CT scanner and come back out once or twice. During this time, your child will need to hold their body still in order to get clear pictures. Depending on the type of exam, your child may need to hold their breath.
What Happens During A CT Scan With Contrast?
Sometimes, your child’s physician will use a liquid called contrast to improve the pictures that are taken by the CT scan.
If your child’s scan is scheduled with contrast, they will get an intravenous line (IV) into their hand or arm prior to their CT. The IV will be placed by a radiology nurse (RN) in a procedure room, where there is a double chair that allows extra room for you to sit next to them.
Once you and your child are in a comfortable position, the RN will begin the IV placement process. Your child may feel a slight prick where the IV is inserted.
Some abdominal CT scans may also be scheduled with contrast for your child to drink, and there are some flavor choices available for them to choose from.
During their CT scan, their IV will be connected to a machine that controls how much contrast goes into their body. It will not hurt, but it will give them a warm sensation. The radiology tech will take the IV out when they are finished with the CT.
How Can I Prepare And Support My Child For Their CT Scan?
It’s normal for your child to feel anxious before a CT scan. However, there are ways to help them feel safe and comfortable during this painless and noninvasive procedure, such as:
- Using developmentally appropriate words to explain to your child what will happen
- Having your child practice holding still and holding their breath in and out before their scan
- Bring a comforting item, such as a blanket or stuffed animal, for the child to have with them during their scan
- Participating in One Voice, which is an initiative to promote a calming environment by limiting the number of voices in the room so your child knows who to focus on, such as a parent or procedural staff professional
- Showing your child pictures of the CT room they will have their scan in so they know what to expect
- Displaying a calm demeanor — your child picks up on your anxiety and often mirrors it
- Meet with one of our child life specialists — experts who can explain the procedure in child-friendly terms, and help you and your child understand what will happen at every stage of the CT scan
What To Do Next
Your child will need an order from a provider to schedule a radiology procedure. Once the order is placed, call 402-955-6799 to schedule the procedure.
For Referring Providers
The Physicians’ Priority Line is your 24-hour link to pediatric specialists at Children’s for referrals, emergency and urgent consults, physician-to-physician consults, admissions, and transport services. Call 855-850-KIDS (5437).
Learn more about referring patients.