CAT Scans

A CAT scan is a common name for the imaging procedure called a computerized axial tomography scan. A CAT scan procedure uses a computer to combine several x-ray images to produce cross-sectional and three-dimensional images of internal organs and other structures within the body.

Why are CAT Scans performed?

CAT scans are used to assess the internal structures inside the body. Potential reasons for conducting a CAT scan include:

  • Head - blood clots, skull fractures, tumors, and infections
  • Spine - structure of vertebrae, anatomy of intervertebral discs and spinal cord
  • Chest - tumors, cysts, and infections
  • Abdomen - organ anatomy, tumors, infection, abnormal anatomy, or changes in the body as a
  • result of trauma

What are the risks of CAT Scans?

A CAT scan is recognized as a low-risk procedure. The most common complaint involves adverse reactions to the dyes used to help the CAT scan see internal organs . Reactions may include itching, a rash, or hives that should disappear quickly. CAT scans may be done without the use of dye, but interpreting results may be more difficult to do.

What about CAT Scans and risks during pregnancy?

As with any medical procedure, it is important to inform your physician that you are pregnant prior to any testing and medical procedures. This provides the doctor with the opportunity to use a different testing process or medical procedure as needed.

A CAT scan involves exposure to radiation at levels slightly higher than normal x-rays. The effective radiation dose from this procedure is about 10 mSv, which is about the same the average person receives from normal radiation (i.e. from the sun) in 3 years. However, the benefit of receiving an accurate diagnosis most often is more important than the limited risk associated with radiation exposure.

A CAT scan does involve a potential risk to the developing fetus, but the overall concern is low. The level of risk is related to the amount of exposure which depends primarily on the area of the body being x-rayed. In general, abdominal CAT scans are not recommended due to the risk to the exposed fetus whichcould potentially lead to developmental malformations and childhood cancers.

What about CAT Scans and breastfeeding?

Nursing mothers should wait 24 hours after receiving an injection of dyes used for CAT scans, before resuming breastfeeding.

Reprinted with permission from American Pregnancy Association