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What Is a Neck CT Scan?

By Sandra Koehler
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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A neck CT scan is a medical procedure where a special type of picture is taken of the neck region. Performed by a radiology specialist, this technique can give healthcare professionals an inside look into the neck. The main purpose of this test is to determine if there is a medical problem in the neck area.

Also known as computerized tomography or computed axial tomography, a neck CT scan is a type of X-ray that spins around a single axis. A standard X-ray takes a picture in one position and produces a two-dimensional image. A CT scan provides a 360 degree look, therefore giving this machine the ability to produce a three-dimensional image. This process, which is then run through a special computer, allows for a more in-depth look into the area experiencing the problem.

Like cutting a block of cheese into slices, the pictures taken from a neck CT scan divide the neck and throat area into thin slivers or sections. This allows the computer to produce multiple images, called cross sections, close together. By performing this specialized test, medical professionals are able to look at an area more closely and see problems that may not appear in a standard X-ray procedure. For example, a blockage of an artery in the neck impinging on the blood flow to and from the head area, called atherosclerosis, that may be invisible to a regular X-ray can be seen on a CT scan. Often performed with the injection of a special dye, called contrast into the blood vessels, this procedure allows for the medical professionals to see the exact area of blood flow interruption so that the proper steps can be taken to return normal blood flow through the blood vessel.

The neck is a complex area filled with vital structures such as blood vessels, nerves, muscles and organs essential to connecting the head with the body. When problems arise in this area, things like swallowing, breathing and proper communication of the brain and spinal cord to the rest of the body can be compromised. By performing a neck CT scan, even minute problems can be determined so a course of action can be taken to help return the body to normal functioning.

Problems of the neck requiring the use of a neck CT scan may include injury to the area, unusual lumps and difficulties swallowing or breathing. In some cases a neck CT scan is performed for generalized symptoms such as headaches, or feelings of numbness or tingling in the neck, shoulder or upper arm. This is to rule out a mass in the neck affecting blood flow or nerves.

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