What is a head CT scan?
A head CT scan is a type of scan that uses x-rays to create detailed images of the head, including the skull, brain tissue and blood vessels. It is a quick, painless and non-invasive procedure performed by a radiologist.
Why is it performed?
If the physician cannot determine the cause of symptoms such as headaches, seizures, slurred speech or hearing loss, a CT scan of the head may be recommended. It is also often used in critical situations where the head has suffered trauma, as it can produce images very quickly compared to a brain MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scan. A CT scan of the head can be used to detect and investigate:
- Bleeding in the brain caused by a stroke, head trauma or aneurysm.
- Brain tumors
- Problems with the skull, such as malformations or fractures.
The images produced can be used to diagnose:
- Brain tumor
- Congenital abnormalities
The scan can be used to help doctors plan surgery if needed.
Finally, the scan may be used to help doctors plan surgery if needed.
What to expect
For more information on how CT scans work, what to expect and how to prepare, see our page on CT scans.
It is important to keep your head as still as possible during the scan. The scanner will rotate around your head taking images at a very fast pace and you may be asked to hold your breath at certain times. You may be examined with a special head scanner that you can sit in, rather than having to lie down as in other types of CT scans.
In some cases, you may be asked to take a contrast dye to help certain parts of the brain show up better on the scan. If this is the case, you will be asked not to eat or drink anything for a few hours before the scan and you will be given the dye intravenously.
After the scan, you may be monitored for a while to make sure you do not have an allergic reaction to the contrast dye. If you are in a critical situation, you may be immediately transferred to the operating room, where surgeons use the results of the scan to guide their work. However, if the scan is part of a diagnostic process, the radiologist will send the results to a specialist, who will follow up with additional tests or an appointment to discuss the diagnosis.