CT Scan of the Head
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CT Scan of the Head

(Head CT)

En Español (Spanish Version)


A CT scan is an x-ray that makes cross-sectional images. In this case, the images are focused in the head.

CT Scan of the Head

Breast self-exam, step 5

© 2008 Nucleus Medical Art, Inc.

Parts of the Body Involved

  • Head
  • Brain

Reasons for Procedure

A CT scan is done to study the skull, brain, jaw, sinuses, and facial bones. The scan will look for signs of injuries, tumors, or other disease.

Your doctor may recommend a head CT if you have any of the following symptoms:

  • Headache
  • Seizures
  • Head injury or injury to the face or eyes
  • Dizziness or problems with balance
  • Pain
  • Confusion
  • Behavior or personality change
  • Chronic nasal congestion
  • Cough
  • Swelling in the face, head, or neck
  • May be used as guidance for procedures (eg, brain biopsy)

Many conditions and diseases can be diagnosed with a head CT. These include:

Risk Factors for Complications During the Procedure

A contrast dye is sometimes used. The dye can lead to the worsening of your renal or kidney function. Previous allergic or anaphylactic response to contrast dye is another complication.

If you are pregnant your doctor may choose a different radiological study to limit the exposure to x-rays.

What to Expect

Prior to Procedure

You may be given a contrast dye. If this is the case, do not eat or drink anything for four hours before your exam.

You will need to wear a hospital gown. You will also need to remove anything containing metal from your head and neck, including jewelry, false teeth, glasses, and hair barrettes.

During Procedure

If a contrast dye is needed, it will be given in a barium solution drink or it will be injected into a vein. You'll be positioned on a special movable table part-way inside the CT scanner.



Description of the Procedure

The gantry advances you very slowly through the CT scanner. You'll need to be very still during the entire test. If you have difficulty keeping your head perfectly still, the technician may choose to immobilize your head. As the scanner takes pictures, you'll hear some humming and clicking. You are able to talk to the technician and/or doctor during the exam. If you are in pain, frightened, or concerned in any way, you can talk with them.

After Procedure

If you've received contrast dye, drink extra fluids to more quickly flush it out of your body.

How Long Will It Take?

It may take 10-60 minutes. The length depends on how much area must be scanned and how much detail is needed.

Will It Hurt?

The scan itself will not hurt, although you may feel restless. When you receive an injection of contrast dye, you may feel flushed. You may also notice a salty or metallic taste in your mouth. Some people experience brief nausea as the dye circulates.

Possible Complications

  • Allergic or anaphylactic response to contrast dye

Average Hospital Stay


Postoperative Care



Your doctor should be able to spot any abnormalities in your brain, skull, or facial bones.

Call Your Doctor If Any of the Following Occurs

You had contrast dye and notice:

  • Hives
  • Itching
  • Nausea
  • Swollen, itchy eyes
  • Tightness of throat
  • Difficulty breathing


Center for Devices and Radiological Health

Radiological Society of North America


About Kids Health

Canada Diagnostic Centres


CT scan. Mayo Clinic website. Available at: http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/ct-scan/FL00065. Accessed on October 20, 2007.

Medical encyclopedia: cranial CT scan. MedlinePlus. Available at: http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/003786.htm. Accessed October 14, 2005.

Zater BL, et al. Yale University School of Medicine Patient's Guide to Medical Tests. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin;1997.

Last reviewed October 2007 by Marcin Chwistek, MD

Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

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