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What is a cranial CT scan?

A cranial CT scan is an imaging test that uses x-rays to generate cross-sectional images (slices) of the head. Computerized tomography (CT) is frequently used to give a more detailed diagnosis of the skull, brain, sinuses, and eye sockets. This well-known diagnostic study was used for most complex imaging before MRI became available. CT technique employs ionizing radiation (with or without contrast agents) to create two-dimensional images (slices) of the body. Although many uses of CT imaging are now done with magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), there is still a place for this test. For instance, CT is especially good for imaging bone; MRI is better, in general, for soft tissue imaging.

You may lie on a narrow table that goes into the center of the CT scanner. During the cranial CT scan, images will be produced from your upper neck to the top of your skull. The x-ray tube, which is located inside a doughnut-shaped machine, rotates around your body and emits radiation throughout at different angles. Inside the machine are tiny detectors that calculate the radiation leaving the body and change this into electrical signals. These signals are transferred to a computer, which color-codes them and displays the images on a computer monitor for a radiologist to read.

The cranial CT scan does have an acceptable level of radiation exposure, and it can be done on an outpatient basis to help diagnose abnormalities in the head or neck, brain tumor, and determine the cause of hearing loss. With computerized tomography (CT), doctors can make a diagnosis, and then guide surgery and biopsies, target radiation treatment, and drain abscesses.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.