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Arm CT scan

Definition

Alternative Names

CAT scan - arm; Computed axial tomography scan - arm; Computed tomography scan - arm; CT scan - arm

How the Test is Performed

How to Prepare for the Test

For some tests, you will need to have a special dye, called contrast, to be delivered into the body before the test starts. Contrast helps certain areas show up better on the x-rays.

  • Contrast can be given through a vein (IV) in your hand or forearm. If contrast is used, you may also be asked not to eat or drink anything for 4-6 hours before the test.
  • Let your doctor know if you have ever had a reaction to contrast. You may need to take medicines before the test in order to safely receive this substance.
  • Before receiving the contrast, tell your health care provider if you take the diabetes drug metformin (Glucophage). You may need to special steps if you are on this medicine.

If you weigh more than 300 pounds, find out if the CT machine has a weight limit. Too much weight can cause damage to the scanner's working parts.

You will be asked to remove jewelry and wear a hospital gown during the study.

How the Test will Feel

Why the Test is Performed

CT rapidly creates detailed pictures of the body, including the arms. The test may help detect or diagnose:

  • An abscess or infection
  • The cause of pain or other problems in the wrist, shoulder or elbow joints (usually when MRI can't be done)
  • A broken bone
  • Masses and tumors, including cancer

A CT scan may also be used to guide a surgeon to the right area during a biopsy.

Normal Results

Results are considered normal if no problems are seen in the images.

What Abnormal Results Mean

Abnormal results may be due to:

  • Abscess (collection of pus)
  • Blood clot in the arm (deep venous thrombosis)
  • Bone tumors
  • Cancer
  • Broken or fractured bone
  • Damage to the hand, wrist, or elbow joints

Risks

Risks of CT scans include:

  • Being exposed to radiation
  • Allergic reaction to contrast dye

CT scans expose you to more radiation than regular x-rays. Having many x-rays or CT scans over time may increase your risk for cancer. However, the risk from any one scan is small. You and your doctor should weigh this risk against the benefits of getting a correct diagnosis for a medical problem.

Some people have allergies to contrast dye. Let your doctor know if you have ever had an allergic reaction to injected contrast dye.

  • The most common type of contrast given into a vein contains iodine. A person with an iodine allergy may have nausea or vomiting, sneezing, itching, or hives if given this type of contrast.
  • If contrast is needed, your doctor may give you antihistamines (such as Benadryl) or steroids before the test.
  • The kidneys help remove iodine out of the body. Those with kidney disease or diabetes may need to get extra fluids after the test to help flush the iodine out of the body.

Rarely, the dye may cause a life-threatening allergic response called anaphylaxis. If you have any trouble breathing during the test, let the scanner operator know right away. Scanners have intercom and speakers so the operator can hear you at all times.

References

Huber FG. Arm. In: DeLee JC, Drez D Jr, Miller MD, eds. DeLee and Drez’s Orthopaedic Sports Medicine. 3rd ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2009:chap 18.

Grainger RG, Thomsen HS, Morcos SK, Koh DM, Roditi G. Intravascular contrast media for radiology, CT, and MRI. In: Adam A, Dixon AK, eds. Grainger & Allison's Diagnostic Radiology: A Textbook of Medical Imaging. 5th ed. New York, NY: Churchill Livingstone; 2008:chap 2.

Shaw AS, Dixon AK. Multidetector computed tomography. In: Adam A, Dixon AK, eds. Grainger & Allison's Diagnostic Radiology: A Textbook of Medical Imaging. 5th ed. New York, NY: Churchill Livingstone; 2008:chap 4.


Review Date: 1/17/2013
Reviewed By: C. Benjamin Ma, MD, Assistant Professor, Chief, Sports Medicine and Shoulder Service, UCSF Department of Orthopaedic Surgery. Also reviewed by A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc., Editorial Team: David Zieve, MD, MHA, Bethanne Black, Stephanie Slon, and Nissi Wang.
The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.
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