Expert Care by ER Physicians

How CAT Scans Work

Posted by The Urgency Room on Friday, August 25, 2017
Updated on: Monday, September 11, 2017
Keywords: CAT Scans

A CAT scan, also known as CT scan is a vital tool utilized by thousands of medical professionals every day. At The Urgency Room, a CAT scan is just one of the many tools we use to diagnose and treat illness and injuries in our patients. We take pride in delivering high-quality medical diagnosis and treatment under one roof; you won’t be sent all over town once you’ve come to The Urgency Room. Each of our high-tech facilities is equipped to perform CT scans, sedation for adults and children, ultrasounds, and X-rays; all with the backing of our high-complexity lab. The Urgency Room is open 365 days a year so that we’re available when you need us most. At The Urgency Room, you can count on us when minutes count.

As previously mentioned, one common piece of technology that our board certified emergency physicians utilize is the CT scanner. How do our physicians decide when to call for a CAT scan? Typically, when more information than a standard static X-ray can provide is needed CAT scan is called for. CT scans have many advantages such as bing being quick and painless, additionally they provide a vast amount of crucial information in regard to internal injuries. For example, CAT scans can detect blood vessels and soft tissues along with bones, unlike a common X-ray. Someone who took a fall and suspects a broken wrist would probably receive an X-ray, but someone who fell down a flight of stairs or who was hit in the stomach and is feeling severe internal discomfort would receive a CAT scan. This CAT scan would show if you are suffering from excess fluid or internal bleeding.

A CT scan can be used to detect any number of things, including:

  • Broken bones
  • Tumors
  • Infections
  • Blood clots
  • Excess fluids
  • Cystic fibrosis
  • Injuries from trauma
  • Heart Disease
  • Cancer

So what exactly is a CAT scan? Well first off, CAT scan stands for “Computed Axial Tomography Scan” while a CT scan stands for “Computerised Tomography.” Axial, in this context, means “ In radiology, an axial image is one obtained by rotating around the axis of the body, producing a transverse planar image, a section transverse to the axis.” Which makes sense considering the shape of a CT scanner. A CT scanner, upon first inspection, resembles a gigantic donut with a thin table stuck in the middle. When you are receiving a CAT scan, you will lay on the thin table in the middle of the machine, and the machine will slowly draw you through its center. While you’re passing through the large donut that is the CAT scanner, multiple devices will be at work.

Inside the Machine

In one side of the CT scanner is an X-ray machine, in the other side is an X-ray detector. As you are slowly being pulled through the scanner, the X-ray portion of the scanner will emit thin beams of X-ray through your body, while the X-ray detector reads those X-ray beams. The X-ray detector is reading the strength of the X-ray beams that have been passed through your body. Meaning that the denser the tissue is that the X-ray is hitting, the fewer X-ray will pass through and subsequently be picked up by the X-ray detector. As the X-ray detector picks up the varying densities of your body, a picture is formed on a monitor for your technician which relays the information that the detector has picked up.

The CT scanner is continually performing this process as your body is slowly moved through the donut portion of the machine. Due to the continual nature of the scanner, a 3D image of your anatomy will be constructed by the time the scan is complete. These scans are incredibly detailed and allow physicians to virtually “see” inside your body without the need for exploratory surgery.

A CT scanner is one big magnet, which means that you will need to remove any metal on your person prior to having your scan completed. In some cases, you may be asked to take or be injected with a substance called a contrast medium. When taken orally or intravenously, a contrast medium will help highlight specific areas to be examined during a CT scan. It could help identify a clot or internal bleeding among other medical problems.


Commonly, oral contrast mediums are used when looking at:

  • Pharynx
  • Esophagus
  • Stomach
  • Small intestine
  • Large intestine

Intravenous contrast materials are typically used when surveying:

  • Heart
  • Lungs
  • Liver
  • Adrenal glands
  • Kidneys
  • Pancreas
  • Gallbladder
  • Spleen
  • Uterus
  • Bladder
  • Stomach
  • Small intestine
  • Large intestine
  • Vessels in the brain, neck, chest, abdomen, pelvis, and legs
  • Muscles
  • Fat
  • Skin
  • Breasts

Receive The Treatment You Need at The Urgency Room

Having a CAT scan taken of your body can take just minutes with the advanced equipment available at The Urgency Room. If you’ve recently experienced trauma or blunt force, or are feeling internal discomfort, we urge you to come to one of our three convenient Twin Cities locations today. Our caring and experienced physicians will make getting a CAT scan a simple and painless procedure. Check our wait times online, or drop by for a visit now.

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