Body Parts Head and Brain

Head and Brain CT

Written by
Lillie Coles

Head CT Scan and Brain CT Scan: All You Need to Know

If you've been experiencing dizziness, headaches, or symptoms of a more serious brain problem, it is understandable that you'd seek a scan and a diagnosis as soon as possible. Private CT scans can help you take control of your health, and fast-track your route to diagnosis and treatment.

As CT scans use ionising radiation, our in-house clinical experts must medically justify the scan to make sure it is necessary. This is a quick process, which takes place within 2 days of your booking with us. Your dedicated expert will provide a 1-1 phone consultation to discuss your exact requirements, and refer you for the most suitable scan to get you the answers you need.

Want to learn more about CT scan procedures? Visit our definitive guide to computerised tomography, also known as computed tomography.

What is a CT scan of the brain?

A brain CT scan, which can also be referred to as a CT head scan, uses X-rays to generate images of your head and brain. CT differs from a regular X-rays, as it creates more detailed images in many different layers, called 'slices'. These can be compiled into three dimensional images or viewed as a series of 2D images to pinpoint the exact source of a brain abnormality.

During the scan, you'll lie on a flat narrow table, which moves into the doughnut-shaped CT scanner that surrounds your head. The scanner circles around you, and an X-ray beam is directed at your head from different angles. Detectors on the other side of the scanner will measure the amount of radiation passing through the different tissues of your brain and head. A computer uses this data to compile images of the inside of your body.

Before, during, and after the scan, the scanner operator - a highly trained radiographer - will be available to provide specific instructions, answer your questions, and set up any contrast material equipment. To avoid the radiation dose emitted by CT scanners, your radiographer will leave the room while your scan is taking place. But, the CT machine will be connected to an intercom system, allowing two-way communication at all times.

What can CT head scans detect in the brain?

You might have been recommended a CT scan of the brain for a number of reasons. Brain CT scans can be used to assess the brain for abnormalities, including tumours, lesions, injuries, haemorrhage or stroke. They can even be used to assess the presence of vascular dementia, which is closely linked to stroke.

CT scans are also highly effective at imaging the bones, and a brain CT can help with the detection and assessment of fractures, bone tumours, and other abnormalities of the skull.

Do I need a brain CT scan with contrast?

Sometimes, a contrast agent is required for a CT scan of the brain. This is an iodine-based substance, usually administered into the bloodstream via an IV line into your arm. This substance helps to improve the definition of your CT scan images by highlighting the blood vessels and distinguishing between different tissues.

As part of your booking, you'll receive a clinician consultation with a member of our expert team. They'll let you know if a contrast agent is required for your scan, and will make sure you're a suitable patient to receive the contrast agent. This is because some people may have an allergic reaction to the contrast material, so it is important to let your radiographer know if you have ever had an adverse reaction previously. Contrast dye can have some side effects. For example, it can feel warm when it enters the blood stream via an intravenous line, and can cause a metallic taste, and in rare cases, an allergic reaction.

Contrast dye is removed from the body by the kidneys. If you have kidney problems, such as kidney disease, IV contrast may cause complications. It is important to mention this in your safety questionnaire when booking your scan.

How long does a CT scan of the brain take?

CT scans can be completed very quickly - the whole body can be scanned in under a minute. However, your appointment may be up to 30 minutes long, to allow time for setting up the contrast agent IV (if required), filling in any paperwork on-site, and discussing any questions you might have.

What does a CT scan of the brain show?

CT scans of the brain can detect and diagnose a variety of health concerns very quickly. They can be used to locate and confirm certain types of cancer, causes of stroke, and fractures or bone abnormalities of the skull.

If you've experienced trauma of the head area, a CT scan can help medical professionals examine the extent of damage.

CT scans can also provide the detailed pictures needed to detect abnormalities in the brain structures, such as enlarged brain cavities, brain diseases, birth defects, signs of brain injury, or brain bleeding.

What to wear for a CT scan of the brain?

Metal objects can affect the quality of your CT scan images, so it is recommended that you leave any jewellery, belts and watches at home. Glasses, dentures and removable dental work, hairpins and some hearing aids may also need to be removed for your scan.

If you wear loose, soft, comfortable clothing, you'll usually be permitted to stay in your own clothes for your brain CT scan. However, you might be asked to change into a hospital gown, depending on the type of scan you're having, and the clothing you arrived in.

What is the difference between a CT scan and MRI of the brain, and which is better?

A CT scan of the head is best for:

  • People with metal in their body who would not be suitable for an MRI scan

  • People who may not be able to hold still for the amount of time an MRI scan of the head takes

  • People who need results of their scan at speed, such as in emergency or trauma settings including stroke.

  • People who have not had, or do not need, lots of continuous monitoring with X-ray radiation exposure. CT scans do have risks from the use of radiation, and while this is not significant for a one-off scan, repeated use can increase potential risks of cancer later in life.

Depending on the reason for getting a scan of your brain, an MRI scan could be a better method for providing the diagnosis you're looking for. MRI is generally more suitable in the following cases:

  • People with kidney problems, such as kidney disease, may not be suitable for CT scanning, as the contrast material can interfere with their kidney function. An MRI scan may be recommended instead as gadolinium contrast agents used for MRI tend to have fewer side effects than iodine-based CT contrasts.

  • If your doctor is looking for highly detailed images of the soft tissues, an MRI may be recommended as it can highlight subtle soft tissue differences more precisely than CT scans can.

  • Metastases to the brain (secondary cancer that has spread from the primary site) can also be detected more easily with an MRI scan of the head than a head CT scan.

  • Structures that might be hidden by bone in a CT scan can be imaged with MRI instead.

If you've received advice from your doctor or consultant that a CT scan is right for you, or if you're seeking a scan independently, our expert clinical team can verify whether the scan is the correct choice once you've placed your booking. They will call you to discuss your symptoms, and can change the scanning type if they feel an MRI would be more suitable.

It's important to note that CT scans involve radiation exposure that can be harmful if repeated too often. Your clinician will be able to advise you on whether a CT scan is suitable.

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 brain cost?

Our brain CT scan prices start from £359. The price you pay upfront covers a complete package of care, which includes:

  • 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 scan, at a convenient location near you

  • A radiologist's report of your results, and a patient-friendly interactive report

  • Access to your scan images upon request

  • A post-scan consultation with your clinician if any next steps are required

When will I get CT head scan results, and how do I interpret them?

You'll usually receive your results within 7 working days of your scan. The results will be delivered in four different formats:

  1. A post-scan consultation call with our clinical team, who will explain what your CT images have shown, and provide some recommendations about what to do next.

  2. Your imaging report. This is a PDF document explaining the clinical outcomes of your scan, which you'll receive after your post-scan call. You'll need this to share with your GP or consultant for further treatment and onward care.

  3. Your patient-friendly interactive report. Your clinical report will be full of medical jargon, which you may find hard to understand if you don't have a medical background. Instead of relying on Google, we'll send you an interactive report with clickable diagrams and definitions to help you understand your results with confidence. These reports are exclusive to in the UK.

  4. Your images. Your doctor may request raw copies of your scan images, which we can share with both you and them, free of charge. The files are extremely large and are usually only required if your healthcare professional asks for them. We strongly recommend not trying to interpret CT scan images by yourself - your clinical report is compiled by a radiologist who is a highly trained doctor specialising in the interpretation of images. Usually this report is all a GP would need to see to progress any onward care required.

Next Steps

  • Book a private brain CT scan today, to fast-track your diagnosis and get the answers you need

  • Visit our news page to find out more about CT scans and the other types of scan we offer

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