Computed Tomography (CT) Scan

What to Expect When Your Child Needs a CT Scan

Your child's doctor has ordered a CT scan to help with your child's diagnosis. CT stands for "Computed Tomography," and is sometimes called a "CAT scan." The CT machine looks like a large donut with an attached bed, called a scanning table. The machine takes a series of detailed x-ray pictures, using special equipment and computers, which provide a multidimensional look at a certain body part, like the brain, bones or stomach.

You and your child are welcome to ask questions at anytime before or after the scan. A Child Life Specialist, who is trained to explain the scan and reduce anxiety or discomfort, can also be scheduled to be with you and your child the day of the scan to help make the appointment go smoothly. 

Please call 253-403-2260 to schedule a Child Life Specialist.

Before the Scan

Your child should dress in comfortable clothing without any metal buttons. We suggest your child bring a favorite blanket or toy for comfort, also without any metal buttons, eyes or pieces. Your child may hold the toy or blanket during the scan, as long as it does not block the area we need to scan.

Sedation and Contrast

It is important for your child to hold completely still during the scanning so quality, useful images are taken. If your child is very young or unable to keep still for the exam, your doctor may order sedation to help him or her sleep during the scanning. A nurse will call you one or two days before the scheduled CT scan to discuss preparations. If your child requires sedation for the scan, and you have not heard from the sedation nurse by 6pm the day before the scan, please call 253-403-9569.

Some scans also require a special X-ray contrast material, which is a kind of dye. One type of contrast is a fluid your child will drink; the other is given through an intravenous drip, or IV. One or both types of contrast may be used. When you call to schedule the CT, instructions for the fluid contrast, if necessary, will be explained to you at that time. 

During the Scan

The technologist will answer any questions your child may have. Your child will lie on a scanning table, secured by soft safety straps. The table will move slowly through the middle of the machine during the scanning. The CT machine will not touch your child and the scan does not hurt. The technologist will help remind your child to stay still, if he or she has not been sedated. Holding still "like a statue" is something most children can relate to. If you are in the room (pregnant women cannot be in the room while scanning), you may talk softly with your child reminding him or her to stay still and offer reassurance. Your child may be asked to hold his or her breath for a few seconds at times.

The CT technologist will continually monitor your child to make sure he or she is comfortable. Your child will be in the Imaging Department 5-15 minutes. Please allow 30-45 minutes for the entire appointment.

Medical Imaging uses the lowest possible dose of radiation on children during the exam.

After the Scan

After the CT scan is completed, you and your child are ready to go home. If your child did not receive sedation or contrast, he or she may resume normal activities immediately. The nurse will provide information for caring for your child if he or she was sedated.

If IV contrast was given, you will be instructed to encourage your child to drink extra water for three days after the exam.

The images from the scan will be reviewed by a radiologist and the results will be sent to your child's doctor. Please contact your child's doctor to review the results and to discuss any questions or concerns you may have about your child's care.

Location and Parking

Mary Bridge Children's Hospital
317 Martin Luther King Jr Way
Tacoma, WA 98405

On the day of the CT scan, you may park for free in the Baker Center Parking Garage. Please be sure to bring your parking ticket in with you to the appointment for validation.

Valet Parking is available for $3.00 at the main hospital entrance on Martin Luther King Jr Way or the Philip Pavilion entrance on S 5th Street.