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What Is a 3D CT Scan?

By Misty Wiser
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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A 3D CT scan, or a three-dimensional computerized tomography scan, is a type of x-ray that allows high quality images of organs, blood vessels, and bones to be recorded in a very short amount of time. The individual CT images are then layered together to form a virtual model of the body. It is able to reveal the functionality of many of the anatomical structures in the body, in addition to structural defects, tumors, and lesions.

Some 3D CT scans may be performed in a mobile setting. A cone beam computerized tomography (CBCT) scan is most often used to acquire high quality images of the teeth, jaw, and facial structures before dental reconstruction procedures. Scans obtained from a mobile CBCT scan are transmitted by satellite to the medical facility, where they are then reviewed by the dental professional. The mobile CT scan often requires as little as 20 seconds to achieve a quality diagnostic image.

Another type of 3D CT scan is known as a 3D multi-slice CT (MSCT) scan. The images are captured in a spiraling pattern and reconstructed to achieve a three-dimensional view of the internal structures of the body. This CT scan is often used to obtain the images for a virtual colonoscopy, and may be utilized to visualize the inside of blood vessels and other small anatomical structures. 3D MSCT scans may be obtained to determine how an organ or organ system is functioning or for use as a guideline during biopsies and surgical procedures.

The 3D CT scan is performed while the patient is lying on his back, with his head and neck supported by a pillow. An exam table moves through the O-shaped CT machine as the test progresses. Some clicking noises are usually heard during the scan. The technician may ask the patient to hold his breath for a short period to prevent small areas from blurring as the patient breathes. Advanced 3D CT scan machines may be able to obtain a complete virtual model of the body during one breath hold.

Many CT scans require the use of contrast dyes to enhance the differences between the soft tissues in the body. Most contrast dyes can be administered orally before the scan begins, while other types of contrast dye may be given through an intravenous (IV) line throughout the duration of the scan. Some patients are not able to ingest the contrast dye due to allergies or various medical conditions, and may require the use of a special dye that is not likely to cause allergic reactions and is quickly eliminated from the body.

The most common complaint reported during a 3D CT scan is mild discomfort. A patient may experience temporary itching, a warm sensation, or flushing. Additionally, the contrast dye may leave an unpleasant taste in the mouth. If hives, swelling of the face or throat, or difficulty breathing occurs, a medical professional should be notified immediately to evaluate the possibility of a severe allergic reaction to the contrast dye.

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