CT Scan of Abdomen and Pelvis: A Definitive Guide of What to Expect
CT scans are commonly used for imaging of the abdomen and pelvis, and can also be referred to as a CAT scan, computed tomography scan or computerised tomography. CT is a fast, non-invasive and accurate imaging test that can be used to detect cancer, infections, fractures and more health conditions.
Whether you’re looking for a diagnosis or peace of mind, a CT scan can help get the answers you need.
As CT scans use ionising radiation, they have to be medically justified, to protect you from unnecessary radiation exposure. Sometimes, an MRI scan may be more suitable, but our expert clinicians will provide a consultation as part of your scan booking to make sure a CT is the right option for you.
What is a CT scan of the abdomen and pelvis?
A CT scan uses X-rays to generate detailed pictures of the inside of your body. Usually, the scan will create cross-sectional pictures - multiple images called ‘slices’ - which can then be compiled into a 3D image, or viewed as a series of 2D images. CT scans are more detailed than standard X-rays, and can be used to image blood vessels, internal organs, pelvic bones, and muscles. The abdominal organs include the gastrointestinal system, endocrine system and urinary system.
During the scan, you’ll normally lie on a flat bed, which moves into the donut-shaped machine. An X-ray beam will circle around you, and detectors on the opposite side of the scanner will measure how much of the X-ray passes through different types of body tissues from different angles. This information can be used by a computer to generate detailed images.
Want to learn more about different types of CT scan? Visit our definitive guide.
Why might you need a CT scan of the abdomen and pelvis?
Abdominal CT scans are recommended by doctors for a number of reasons. These include:
If you're experiencing symptoms like abdominal pain or swelling, blood in your urine, a suspected hernia, or kidney stones.
Detecting infections such as appendicitis, or an abscess.
Diagnosing bowel diseases such as ulcerative colitis or Crohn's disease.
Locating and diagnosing cancer, such as lymphoma, liver cancer, kidney cancer, pancreatic cancer, ovarian cancer, or bladder cancer.
Planning purposes, such as before surgery, for a biopsy, or before radiation treatments.
You might have received abnormal blood test results related to your liver or kidneys.
If your doctor suspects an issue with the pelvic bones, such as a fracture or broken bone.
Do I need a CT scan with contrast?
Sometimes, your clinician will recommend the use of a contrast dye for your CT scan.
Contrast agents for CT scanning are iodine-based, and help to improve the definition of your CT scan images by highlighting the blood vessels and distinguishing between different tissues. They are usually administered through a vein (IV) in your arm, or consumed as a drink (oral contrast).
The contrast dye can cause a metallic taste in your mouth, warm flushing of the skin, nausea or even needing to use the bathroom. This is normal, and usually subsides quickly.
Your kidneys will naturally remove IV dye from your body. If you have kidney problems or have experienced kidney failure, you might not be a suitable candidate for contrast dye CT scans. This is because the contrast dye exposure could worsen kidney function if it is already significantly impaired.
During your clinician consultation, which is included in the price of your booking, our team of experts will discuss whether a contrast agent is required, and if your kidney function may make you unsuitable for iodine-based contrast agents. You should also let them know if you’ve ever experienced any adverse reactions to contrast agents previously. An iodine allergy could cause an allergic reaction to the contrast materials during your scan.
How long does an abdominal and pelvic CT take?
CT scans can be completed very quickly - a CT machine can scan your whole body in under a minute. However, your appointment may be up to 30 minutes long, to allow time for setting up the IV for injected contrast dye, filling in any paperwork on-site, and discussing any questions you might have.
What can a CT scan detect in the abdomen and pelvis?
CT scans of the abdomen can detect and diagnose a variety of health concerns very quickly. They can be used to locate and confirm certain types of cancer, such as colon cancer, pancreatic cancer, or cancer of the renal pelvis or ureter.
Other conditions a CT scan of the abdomen and pelvis can detect are abscesses, blockages of the bile ducts, kidney disease, liver disease, appendicitis, pancreatitis and kidney stones.
CT scans can also indicate problems with the blood vessels, including blockages like an abdominal aortic aneurysm, renal artery stenosis, or renal vein thrombosis.
What to wear for a CT scan of the abdomen and pelvis?
As with many diagnostic imaging procedures, you might be asked to change into a hospital gown for your CT scan, to prevent any interference from your clothing on the scan images. For example, metal items like belt buckles and buttons can affect the quality of your scan images.
We recommend that you wear soft, comfortable clothing for your scan, as you may be permitted to wear your own clothes for the procedure, if not a hospital gown. You’ll also be asked to remove piercings, watches and belts for the scan.
CT scan vs MRI for abdomen and pelvis
CT scans are incredibly fast, and are commonly used in cases where speed is of the essence, such as if a burst appendix is suspected. CT also enables a complete overview of both bones and soft tissues in more definition than a traditional X-ray. The procedure is non invasive and accurate, and is a good all-rounder for abdominal and pelvic investigations - including in cases where a patient cannot have an MRI scan because of an implanted medical device for a medical condition, or metal in their body.
For imaging solely of the soft tissues, such as the liver, kidney, pancreas, or uterus, MRI may be recommended instead of CT as it tends to provide more definition between different types of soft tissues. MRI also does not use ionising radiation, so there is no risk from radiation exposure. If imaging needs to be repeated regularly, MRI can be recommended.
Depending on the reason for getting a scan of your abdomen, an MRI scan could be a better method for providing the diagnosis you’re looking for. If you’ve received advice from your doctor or consultant that a CT scan is right for you, our expert clinical team can verify this once you’ve placed your booking.
If you’re seeking a scan independently, don’t be put off if you’re not 100% sure which scan to choose. While we have a number of resources to help you decide, we advise you to place your booking and our expert clinical team will verify whether or not it is the correct scan for you.
To find out more about the differences between CT scans and MRI scans, you can read our dedicated guide here.
How much does a CT scan of the abdomen cost?
Our abdominal CT scan prices start from £359, and this cost includes a full end-to-end package of care as part of your booking. You’ll receive:
A pre-scan consultation with a dedicated expert clinician, to discuss your symptoms and requirements
A fast referral to your chosen scanning centre, with no GP visits and no waiting lists
Your abdomen and pelvis scan, at a convenient location near you
A radiologist’s report of your results, and an interactive patient-friendly report
Access to your scan images upon request
A post-scan consultation with your clinician if any next steps are required
Book a private CT scan today, to fast-track your diagnosis and get the answers you need
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