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Often called a CAT scan, CT combines x-ray imaging with sophisticated computers to create multiple cross-sectional images of the body’s internal structures.

Unlike conventional x-ray, which captures the outlines of bones and organs, a CT scan creates a 3-D computer model of the body’s internal organs and systems, enabling your doctor to view specific areas from hundreds of different angles so even tiny elements can be examined in detail.

The CT machine looks a bit like a huge donut resting on its side, with a platform in the middle for you to lie on comfortably during the scan. As your body slowly passes through the center ring, the x-ray mechanisms revolve around in different directions to capture visual "slices” of the examination site, which the computer combines to form a detailed 3-D image of the body part being investigated.

Because they are far more comprehensive than conventional x-rays, CT scans are widely used to diagnose and treat a vast array of illnesses and injuries throughout the head and body, as well as to guide biopsies and help plan radiation treatment and surgery. CT captures images of even very small bones, soft tissues and blood vessels, making it most doctors’ choice to diagnose and treat spinal problems, injuries to skeletal structures, and vascular diseases.

A CT scan often requires the use of contrast material to enhance the visibility of certain tissues or blood vessels. The exam itself is fairly quick, generally taking anywhere from a few minutes to half-an-hour. It is painless, noninvasive, and highly reliable in detecting internal injury and disease, guiding needle biopsies, and eliminating invasive exploratory surgery.