• CT Scan of the Head

    (Head CT)


    A CT scan uses a computer to make pictures of the inside of the body. In this case, the images are of the head.
    CT Scan of the Head
    Breast self-exam, step 5
    Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.

    Reasons for Test

    A CT scan is done to study your skull, brain, jaw, sinuses, and facial bones. It will look for signs of injuries, tumors, infections, or other diseases.
    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
    • Confusion
    • Behavior or personality change
    • Chronic nasal congestion
    • Swelling in the face, head, or neck

    Possible Complications

    A chemical called "contrast" may be used to help improve the pictures. Some people can have a bad reaction to contrast. However, bad reactions are rare. Your doctor will review a list of possible complications of a CT scan with contrast. These may include:
    Some doctors believe radiation exposure from CT scans can increase the risk of cancer. There are greater concerns about side effects in children and pregnant women. Be sure to discuss these risks with your doctor before the test.

    What to Expect

    Prior to Test

    Your doctor may ask you to:
    • Avoid eating or drinking anything for four hours before the test if contrast will be used.
    • Remove any metal objects (for example, jewelry, hearing aids, or dentures).

    Description of the Test

    If contrast is needed, it will be injected into a vein.
    You will be positioned on a special moving table. The table will move slowly through the CT scanner. You will need to stay still during the entire test. The technician may need to use a device to keep your head still. As the scanner takes pictures, you will hear humming and clicking. You will be able to talk to the technician through an intercom.

    After Test

    If you had contrast, you may be asked to drink extra fluid. This will flush the contrast from your body.

    How Long Will It Take?

    About 10-60 minutes

    Will It Hurt?

    You may feel flushed if you are given contrast. You may also notice a salty or metallic taste in your mouth and feel nauseated.


    The CT images will be sent to a radiologist for analysis. Your doctor will receive the results and discuss them with you.

    Call Your Doctor

    If you were given contrast, call your doctor if any of the following occurs after the test:
    • Hives
    • Itching
    • Nausea
    • Swollen, itchy eyes
    • Tightness of throat
    • Difficulty breathing
    In case of an emergency, call for medical help right away.


    American Cancer Society http://www.cancer.org

    Radiological Society of North America http://www.radiologyinfo.org


    Canadian Association of Radiologists http://www.car.ca

    Canadian Radiation Protection Association http://www.crpa-acrp.org


    Brenner DJ. Should we be concerned about the rapid increase in CT usage? Rev Environ Health. 2010;25(1):63-68.

    Positron Emission Tomography - Computed Tomograpy (PET/CT). Radiology Info.org website. Available at: http://www.radiologyinfo.org/en/info.cfm?pg=PET. Updated February 2010. Accessed August 31, 2012.

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

    Revision Information

  • Can we help answer your questions?

    Wellmont Nurse Connection is your resource for valuable health information any time, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Speak to a Nurse any time, day or night, at (423) 723-6877 or toll-free at 1-877-230-NURSE.