Abdominal CT scan – Risks and complications

Abdominal CT scan is a diagnostic method used to detect diseases of the internal structures of your abdomen.

This examination is fast, painless, noninvasive and accurate. Pictures are made by a combination of X-rays and computer technology to produce horizontal and/or axial images of the body. (Do you know the difference between CT and MRI?)

However, as within almost every imaging method, there are some risks and can occur some complications. Let’s have a look at them.

What are the risks of the abdominal CT scan?

An abdominal CT scan is considered to be a safe examination. However, there are some risks:

  1. Allergic reaction – your doctor may decide you be examined by CT with contrast. During the examination, you may develop a reaction – e.g. skin rash or itchiness. These symptoms occur when you are allergic to contrast. Fortunately, life-threatening allergic reactions are rare.
    Do not forget to inform your doctor about any sensitivities to medications, especially barium and iodine, or any kidney problems you have.
  2. Birth defects – exposure to radiation during pregnancy increases the risk of birth defects. It is very important to tell your doctor if you are or you might be pregnant (in this case, it’s safer to perform an ultrasound or MRI).
  3. Increased risk of cancer – during the CT examination, you are exposed to radiation. The amount of radiation is higher than when using an X-ray, therefore the risk of developing cancer is slightly increased. However, the risk is much lower than the risk of getting cancer naturally.

Complications during an abdominal CT scan

The complications of an abdominal CT scan are mostly caused by a reaction to a contrast agent used. These side effects are in most cases mild. If they will become more severe or unbearable, do not hesitate to tell your doctor right away.
Symptoms developed when using a barium contrast agent:

  • abdominal cramping
  • diarrhea
  • nausea or vomiting
  • constipation

Iodine contrast complications can include:

  • skin rash or hives
  • itching
  • headache

When you are given contrast and have one of the severe symptoms, call your doctor or go to the emergency:

  • shortness of breath
  • increased heart rate
  • swelling of your throat or other body parts

A CT scan of the abdomen is in general safe, available and accurate imaging method. In emergency cases, doctors use a CT scan to reveal internal injuries and bleeding quickly enough to help save lives. And despite any of the risks mentioned above, doctors would not be able to detect many diagnoses without it. More about when and why is abdominal CT scan used, you can read here.

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